Antelopes upset Sunflowers to win title

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

The Toyota Motors Antelopes ended the mighty JX Sunflowers’ quest for their fifth consecutive Empress’ Cup title with a 90-69 upset victory in the women’s final of the 88th All-Japan Championship at Yoyogi National Gymnasium on Sunday.

It was the first All-Japan title for the Antelopes.

Thirty-four-year-old veteran Ryoko Yano led the Antelopes with 24 points, followed by young shooter Mika Kurihara’s 23. Both Yano and Kurihara were sharp on their long shots, as Yano hit 4 of 5 and Kurihara 7 of 11 shots from the 3-point line.

“Everything is my first time, and I’m extremely pleased,” Kurihara, a 23-year-old rookie, said after the game. “When we faced JX on the opening day, I was so nervous. But as I’ve played so many games in the league since then, I played having fun today.”

Toyota got off to a hot start, making 10 3-pointers, and built a 48-31 lead at halftime.

While the Sunflowers struggled to get the momentum back, the Antelopes geared up in the final quarter, outscoring their rivals 26-15 to end the game by a large margin.

“We allowed JX to rally in the third quarter, but we were able to keep the momentum for the rest of the period, and that led to our victory,” Yano said.

Ramu Tokashiki, a 192-cm center/forward, had 29 points and 13 rebounds, both game highs, for the Sunflowers.

The Sunflowers had not lost for 22 consecutive games since the start of the WJBL regular season and were considered rock favorites to win the final.

“I don’t think there was anything unusual with us,” JX point guard Asami Yoshida said. “But at the end of the day, our defense wasn’t very good and we didn’t play how we were supposed to play. So it really didn’t matter how the opponent played.”