Basketball

Sunflowers pound Antelopes in All-Japan Championship semifinals

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

The JX-Eneos Sunflowers, the perennial winners of the Japanese women’s basketball, dominated the game from start to finish in a 72-52 win over the Toyota Motors Antelopes in the semifinals of the annual All-Japan Championship at Yoyogi National Gymnasium on Saturday.

The three-time reigning champion Sunflowers will take on the Fujitsu Red Wave in Sunday’s title game with the Empress Cup at stake.

The Sunflowers quickly set the pace with their stingy defense, allowing the Antelopes only nine and seven points over the first two quarters.

Toyota rallied and outscored JX-Eneos 21-18 in the third quarter, but it wasn’t enough to get itself back in the game from a 20-point deficit at halftime (57-37).

Inside player Yuka Mamiya had a game-high 17 points and 12 rebounds, while her teammates Yuki Miyazawa and Ramu Tokashiki followed with 16 and 14 points, respectively, for the Sunflowers.

The Sunflowers, who are undefeated with a 22-0 record in the WJBL regular season, out-rebounded the Antelopes 61-40 and held the Nagoya-based team to 21.2 percent shooting from inside the 3-point arc. JX-Eneos shot 46.7 percent from 2-point range.

“I think we got off very well at the beginning today,” JX-Eneos head coach Tom Hovasse said in fluent Japanese after the game. “Our players executed our defensive game plan well, communicated well and rotated well.”

The Sunflowers will look to capture their 21st overall All-Japan title in the final, but veteran and national team guard Asami Yoshida said that the team care less about repeating the championship.

“Our players know how difficult it is to win consecutively,” Yoshida said. “But we are just focusing on winning one game at a time, and we just want to play our JX basketball against whoever we’ll play in tomorrow’s final.”

For the Antelopes, who are 18-4 in the WJBL and sit in second place behind JX-Eneos, Saki Mizushima knocked down three 3-pointers and led the team with 13 points, while star guard Yuko Oga struggled with her shooting (1-for-12), finishing with just two points.

Yet Oga kept her head up for the remainder of the WJBL season, saying, “(Our team is) good this year as we don’t have a lot of injured players.”

In the other semifinal game, the Red Wave booked a spot in the final for the first time in six years with a 64-57 victory over the Chanson V-Magic.

Forward Moeko Nagaoka scored 12 points in the final quarter to help Fujitsu. She had 29 points and nine boards.

Fujitsu and JX-Eneos faced each other in a two-game season-opening series, with the latter team recording a sweep.

Red Wave first-year head coach Michihito Otaki admitted that the Sunflowers are even more competitive this year, but said his squad would still have a chance to beat the invincible team.

“We’ll have to be smart on how we play against them,” he said. “I’ll think about it, cutting my sleeping time.”

Point guard Rui Machida said: “We are going to be able to score both inside and outside. And we are going to have to outrun and outplay (them) defensively, too.”