Clutch 3-pointer propels Iran past Japan in FIBA Asia Cup final

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

In the game of basketball, making a big shot in crunch time is as important as total points and rebounds on the stats sheet that’s distributed after a game.

Point guard Aren Davoudichegani ended up with just five points but drilled a huge shot from beyond the 3-point arc with 18.3 seconds left in the game as Iran edged host Japan 53-51 in the final of the fourth FIBA Asia Cup at Ota City General Gymnasium on Saturday afternoon.

Iran grabbed its first Asia Cup title and earned an automatic spot in next year’s FIBA Asia Championship in Beirut, which will be the preliminary tournament of the region for the 2014 FIBA World Championship in Spain.

In an overall stingy defensive contest, Iran took a 30-23 lead at halftime, but Japan had a strong comeback led by Kosuke Kanamaru, who hit three 3s for 11 points in the period alone, to have a 44-40 lead at the end of the third quarter.

But Iran prevented Japan from extending its lead with a 2-3 zone defense to keep the game a close one.

Japan guard Takatoshi Furukawa sank a 3-pointer to give Japan a 51-47 advantage with 1:25 remaining. Yet moments later, Iran pulled within one on a three-point play by center Asghar Kardoustpoustins before the game-winning 3-pointer by Davoudichegani, who was wide open.

Japan tried to retake the lead, but Furukawa’s 3 in the final seconds didn’t go through the cylinder.

Forward Samad Bahrami led Iran with 14 points and three others followed with eight for two-time Asia Championship winner Iran, which is listed 20th in the FIBA world rankings (China is 11th, the top country in Asia; Japan’s 35th).

Kanamaru had a game-high 16 points and J.R. Sakuragi scored 10 for Japan.

Iran outscored Japan 30-6 in the paint.

“Before this tournament, everybody was talking about this tournament was going to be an easy tournament, (because) everybody got young players,” said Bahrami, who was named the Asia Cup MVP.

“But once we got here and played through the tournament, we found out it’s not normal, it’s not like the Asia Cup before. It was a very good tournament. I’ve played in a lot of Asian games but this tournament is as hard as the Asia Championship.”

The organizers also announced the tournament’s Best Five: Bahrami, Hamed Afagh and Asghar Kardoustpoustins of Iran, and Japan’s Kosuke Takeuchi and Ryota Sakurai.

While the players were clearly disappointed after the game, Japan head coach Kimikazu Suzuki had a mild, satisfactory expression on his face for perhaps what his squad achieved in the 10-team tournament.

“Iran’s a champion team that was said to be the best team coming in this tournament,” said Suzuki, who took over the helm for the second time in May. “They’ve played in world championships and Olympics, so we were pleased to be able to play against them. As for our players, they really showed their heart, especially in the second half.”

Japan will now advance to an East Asia sub-zone tournament to fight for a spot in the Asia Championship next year.

In the third-place game held earlier on Saturday, Qatar defeated the Philippines 79-63.