Sunflowers shooting for eighth consecutive WJBL Finals crown

Red Wave aiming for second title

by

Staff Writer

The reigning champion JX-Eneos Sunflowers and Fujitsu Red Wave will square off in the WJBL Finals for the second consecutive year.

The best-of-five Finals will tip off on March 10 in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture. The second game will be played in Kofu, Yamanashi Prefecture. The last three are scheduled to be held at Tokyo’s Yoyogi National Gymnasium No. 2. (Games 4 and 5 if necessary)

The Sunflowers are looking to retain their WJBL dominance. They will try to extend their championship streak to eight and capture their 19th league title.

Loaded with elite players on their roster, led by WNBA player Ramu Tokashiki, the Sunflowers are the favorites in the Finals. The Empress’ Cup winners in January’s All-Japan Championship swept Fujitsu in last year’s Finals.

But the thirst for winning never ends for the perennial powerhouse team, and the players are always expected to come up with nothing less than a championship.

JX-Eneos captain and point guard Asami Yoshida insisted that the Sunflowers, who had a league-best 20-4 record in the 2015-16 campaign, are obliged to complete a double championship, in the WJBL and New Year’s All-Japan Championship, every year.

“So whether our championship streak is going to be eight in a row or 10 in a row, we just set our goals at the championships,” Yoshida said at a news conference in Tokyo on Thursday.

Sunflowers head coach Kiyomi Sato said, “People are expecting us to complete the eighth straight championship, but we just want to focus on what’s at stake this time.”

Fujitsu, which had the league’s second-best regular-season record (18-6), reached the championship stage with the goal of avenging the humiliation that it suffered in last year’s Finals.

Although they managed to climb up the postseason bracket, the Red Wave struggled to play their best ball against the Mitsubishi Electric Koalas and Chanson V-Magic, in the quarterfinals and semifinals, respectively.

BT Toews, Fujitsu’s Canadian head coach, displayed a sense of urgency for his team going into the Finals, saying that he was concerned about its slow start in recent games. But he added that those issues are ones within the team, not problems that opponents have given the Red Wave.

Some have said that that the Red Wave offense struggles against zone defenses, but Toews dismissed that notion.

“We don’t struggle against the zone,” Toews said. “We are not hitting shots against the zone. We are getting good shots. We use a variety of different zone offenses. So it’s not really the zone offense and it’s not the quality of other teams’ zone defense.

“It’s really more mental with our team. So we’re not entering the Finals against JX with good momentum, and it’s my job to do something with them.”

Toews said that the jitters his young players carried in last year’s Finals were “the whole reason” that they ended up not getting a single “W.”

“When we lose, it’s usually because girls can’t get over the nervousness,” Toews said. “So last year, in Game 3, there’s nothing to lose. You’ve been embarrassed two games in a row. That was the conversation we had. Let’s not think about results. Think about the pride and play your style of game. Let it all hang out. And they did that in Game 3.”

Toews added that his players’ experience in last year’s Finals will be helpful this time they know what they need to focus on better than a year ago.

“So the key is not so much them, the key is us,” said Toews, whose Red Wave held a 2-1 against the Sunflowers in the regular season. “Just focus on what we’re trying to do.”

Fujitsu captured its first and only WJBL league title in the 2007-08 season.