Defense fuels victory for Japan over China in FIBA Asia Cup quarterfinals


Staff Writer

Veterans Kosuke Takeuchi and Ryota Sakurai powered Hayabusa Japan at both ends of the floor in a 60-50 win over China in the FIBA Asia Cup quarterfinals at Ota City General Gymnasium on Thursday night.

Takeuchi led Japan with 18 points and 10 rebounds — five of which were offensive — and Sakurai followed with 13 points and seven boards to send the hosts into Friday night’s semifinals against Qatar.

“We’re relieved we’ve reached the final four, which we’d wanted to accomplish,” said Japan captain Sakurai, who went 5-for-7 from the field, after the game. “But actually we weren’t relaxed today as we entered the final round and couldn’t play as we wanted to, dropping some shots and free throws we were supposed to make. But it was our defense that gave us the win.”

While neither side was really able to find its offensive rhythm until the final quarter, Takeuchi hit a big jumper with 3:33 left, and J.R. Sakuragi put Japan up 56-45 with a key layup with 2:50 remaining.

Sakuragi had eight points and seven rebounds, while young shooters Kosuke Kanamaru and Daiki Tanaka scored 10 and nine points, respectively.

China, which is 11th in the FIBA rankings but fielding a squad of young prospects all around 20 years old for this tourney, countered against Japan by capitalizing on its size, out-rebounding its foe 46-35. But China’s 20 turnovers ended up costing it the game.

“Defensively, we played good as we held Japan to just 60 points,” China head coach Fan Bin said. “But we had too many turnovers. We came here with these inexperienced young players. But I’m proud of our players that played until the last seconds.”

For China, 214-cm center/forward Wang Zhelin led the team with 15 points and 14 rebounds. Guards Guo Ailun and Zhao Tailong followed with 10 points apiece.

“Japan’s defense troubled us and it caused us some problems offensively,” said the 18-year-old Wang, who’s already earning attention from international scouts, including from the NBA. “For me personally, it was my first game to be playing at such a high-level competition, and for a young player like me, there are a lot of things to improve on.”

Japan led 31-25 at halftime.

In the other quarterfinal games that were also played on the day, Iran demolished Uzbekistan 79-37, the Philippines cruised past Taiwan 75-68 and Qatar defeated Lebanon 79-72.

Both semifinal games will be held on Friday, and the Japan-Qatar game will tip off at 7 p.m. at the same venue.

Japan beat Qatar in the group stage (73-69), but in that game the Middle East nation did not play American-born guard Clinton “Trey” Johnson III, who had 28 points and seven assists against Lebanon. Johnson appeared in 23 NBA games for four NBA teams between 2008 and 2012.

“For me, the real competition starts from now,” Takeuchi said. “Qatar preserved (Johnson) the other day, and it’ll certainly be a tougher game.”