SAKURA CITY, Saitama Prefecture — Say this much for the Saitama Broncos: They’ve become a team capable of beating anyone on any given day.
That was clearly not the case in the team’s previous two seasons. But now 32 games into the 2007-08 season, they’ve won 16 contests, lost 16 and developed the mental toughness to respond to big challenges.
On Sunday, Saitama rebounded from Saturday’s lackluster performance by outhustling, outmuscling and outplaying the Takamatsu Five Arrows in a 91-79 victory at Saitama City Memorial General Gymnasium.
The Broncos were outplayed and outclassed by Takamatsu in a 85-72 loss a day earlier.
The Broncos ended the Five Arrows’ seven-game winning streak a day after the out-of-towners shot 61.2 percent from 2-point range, took 26 free throws to their 14 and got eight blocked shots from center George Leach.
“Yesterday, Takamatsu had a lot of easy baskets,” Broncos power forward Gordon James said after Sunday’s game. “It seemed like we didn’t really make them work for anything. They basically got whatever they wanted, but we had to cut that out today.
“So coming into this game, we wanted to make everything hard for them. . .limit them to one shot.”
Forward Mamadou Diouf had 20 of his game-high 22 points in the first three quarters, to help Saitama take a 68-48 lead into the final period. Andrew Feeley added 14 points, James and Kazuhiro Shoji chipped in with 13 apiece and Yuki Kitamuki provided a spark off the bench with a 10-point, two-assist, two-steal performance in 19 minutes.
“We want to continue to finish the season a whole lot stronger,” Broncos coach David Benoit said, noting that next weekend’s home series against the Osaka Evessa will be a big test.
The Broncos set the tone for this game with strong team defense in the first quarter, holding the Five Arrows to 3-for-18 from the field.
Saitama used a 17-4 spurt in the second quarter to grab a commanding 37-20 lead capped by Diouf’s old-fashioned 3-point play. The Broncos led 48-30 at the break.
“First of all, it (the big run) started on the defensive end,”James said. “The fact that we limited them to one shot and when we got the ball, we were just running it and we felt like we were all together and we just felt like we had to win this game. So, I guess, it was like we were going to win by any means necessary.”
Today we played the game with a sense of urgency,” was the way James described Saitama’s performance.
In the fourth quarter, Takamatsu shot a barrage of 3-point shots to trim the lead to nine in the final minute.
Warren’s 20 points was a team-high for the Five Arrows while Hiroyuki Kikuchi had 19 and Steve Horne 18.
Five Arrows coach Motofumi Aoki dismissed the notion that fatigue played a factor in his team’s poor performance. After all, he said, only Warren and Leach (37 minutes apiece) played more than 30 minutes.
“Mentally, we were weaker than the Saitama players,” Aoki said. “I really regret that. Including myself, about the results, I want to take it seriously.”
Elsewhere point guard Matt Lottich scored a game-high 34 points, leading the Osaka Evessa to a 96-89 home victory over the Niigata Albirex BB on Sunday.
Jeff Newton (29 points, 17 rebounds) and Mikey Marshall (21 points, eight rebounds, seven assists) also steered the Western Conference’s top team to its 25th win in 32 games.
For Niigata (21-13), Andre Smith had a busy afternoon, pulling down 20 boards and scoring 33 points. Yuichi Ikeda had 20 points a day after scoring a then-season-best 18 in the Albirex’s series-opening win, Rodney Webb added 14 and Takamichi Fujiwara 10.
Elsewhere, the visiting Ryukyu Golden Kings defeated the Toyama Grouses 97-79.
Naoto Takushi’s 34 points paced the Golden Kings, who improved to 9-23. Kevin Steenberge contributed 14 points, Eric Walton had 12 and Taira Yoshida 11.
For Toyama (4-30), Jamar Brown had a team-best 25 points and Masayuki Kabaya scored 23.
The Tokyo Apache, meanwhile, recorded a series split, defeating the host Sendai 89ers 99-86.
John Humphrey had a fine all-around game (24 points, eight rebounds, six assists) and Nick Davis provided a 19-point, 14-rebound effort to spearhead the Apache’s 16th win of the season. They are back to .500, tied with the Saitama Broncos (16-16) for third place in the Eastern Conference.
Apache forward Dameion Baker added 17 points, Cohey Aoki had 12 and a team-high six assists and Jun Iwasa provided nine.