The Jx-Eneos Sunflowers maintained their dominance of Japan’s women’s basketball scene as they completed a three-peat with an 83-44 victory over the Denso Iris in the final of the All-Japan Championship at Yoyogi National Gymnasium on Sunday.
Superstar forward Ramu Tokashiki had 19 points, nine rebounds and a pair of blocks to lead the Sunflowers to their 20th Empress’ Cup in the 82nd edition of the annual knockout tournament. Fellow inside player Yuka Mamiya racked up 14 points and 11 boards.
Jx-Eneos, which has four national team players, was merciless from the beginning and overwhelmed Denso both offensively and defensively. The Sunflowers built a 39-15 halftime lead and widened it in the second half.
“We came into the game with a strong mindset against our opponents and it ended up as a positive result for us today,” said Jx-Eneos point guard Asami Yoshida, who had seven points and five assists. “We were able to play our basketball throughout the game and came up with a big win.”
Denso tried to avenge its defeat against the Sunflowers in last year’s final. Yet it came up short again. Maki Takada was the sole double-digit scorer (17) for the Iris.
It was the seventh All-Japan Championship title for Jx-Eneos in the last eight years.
“People might say that it’s Jx again,” Mamiya said. “But we’ve worked harder than anybody else to win the championship, so this is the result of our effort and I’m relieved that we’ve won the title now.”
Sunflowers assistant coach Tom Hovasse agreed with Mamiya’s remarks, saying, “We don’t turn the ball over and I think we are a pretty tough team to beat. We played well and I’m very proud of the girls.”
Hovasse insisted that one of the major factors for the win was Tokashiki being able to single-handedly guard Takada, who’s also on the national team and is usually a player who needs to be double-teamed.
“Tokashiki does so much for us,” Hovasse said of the player who signed with the WNBA’s Seattle Storm last summer, between WJBL seasons. “Not even just scoring but her presence on defense. Even if she doesn’t block a shot, she forces them to miss shots. A lot of times, we don’t have to double-team.
“Like today, she guarded Takada, we didn’t have to double-team her, because Tokashiki kept her in check. So that’s a huge difference. When you double-team Takada, somebody else is going to (be) open but we don’t have to do that. That kind of forced them to do some different things they are not used to doing.”
Even before she joined the WNBA last year, the 193-cm Tokashiki was by far the best player in Japan. But she’s developed her game even more after a successful season in the WNBA last summer.
“I think I’ve gotten able to play outside a little bit more,” said the 24-year-old, who averaged 17.5 points, 8.75 rebounds and 2.25 blocks in four games in the Empress’ Cup. “That’s what I’ve learned.”
Actually, Hovasse, who coaches Tokashiki and the team’s other big players individual skills on a daily basis, said that Tokashiki has shown improvement in this season’s WJBL campaign based on her experience in the United States.
“We’ve been working on her driving and just certain things,” said Hovasse, who briefly played for the Atlanta Hawks in the 1994-95 NBA season. “She’s so under control right now. Before, it used to be, one dribble, and she would go up to the basket. Now, if defense is there, she’s under control, she jumps-stops, and she starts to do more things. I think her body control has gotten a lot better and outside shots are improving everyday. For her, the upside is tremendous from here on out. She’s just going to get better and better.”
Asked if Tokashiki, who was selected on the WNBA’s all-rookie team in 2015, would be back with the Storm next season, Hovasse said, “We’re working on it. They want her back.”