Basketball

Sunflowers crush Red Wave to maintain stranglehold on Empress Cup

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

Once again, the mighty Jx-Eneos Sunflowers hoisted the Empress Cup high at the annual new year tournament.

Jx-Eneos crushed the Fujitsu Red Wave in the women’s title game at the All-Japan Championship with a 91-67 win at Tokyo’s Yoyogi National Gymnasium on Sunday.

The powerhouse team of Japanese women’s basketball captured the Empress Cup for the fourth straight year and 21st time overall.

Superstar Ramu Tokashiki dominated the court with 34 points and 18 rebounds and the versatile Yuki Miyazawa chipped in with 23 points for the Sunflowers, who are currently unbeaten with a 22-0 record in the Women’s Japan Basketball League this season.

The Red Wave put up some competition early and trailed 19-16 at the end of the first quarter. But the Sunflowers shifted up a gear defensively, holding the Kawasaki-based team to just nine points in the second quarter to seize the momentum.

The Sunflowers particularly dominated underneath the basket. They outrebounded Fujitsu 59-28 and cleaned the offensive boards 26 times (Fujitsu had seven). The Sunflowers’ rebounding made the difference.

“We had a few jitters early on, but played our power basketball from the second quarter on and we came out on top in the end,” Sunflowers head coach Tom Hovasse said in Japanese after the game.

The Sunflowers looked to win in a dominant fashion, but Hovasse told his players to keep pushing with an anything-can-happen attitude.

“When we got up 20 points, I told our players to stretch it to 30 points and more,” Hovasse said. “In a game two years ago, we took a 23-point lead but wound up losing after overtime. I had that in mind.”

It was the 10th consecutive championship game appearance for the Sunflowers, who won eight of them, at the annual single-elimination tournament.

The Sunflowers have also captured the WJBL championship for the last eight consecutive seasons as well.

And the Kashiwa, Chiba Prefecture-based club showed no mercy against the Red Wave.

On Saturday, the Sunflowers cruised past the Toyota Motors Antelopes 72-52 in the semifinals. But Hovasse wasn’t fully satisfied with how his team performed.

“It’s our team’s theme to play our brand of ball for the entire 40 minutes,” said Hovasse, who took over at the helm this season. “Playing great for 30 minutes or 35 minutes isn’t enough. Thirty-eight isn’t enough either.”

Tokashiki said that Hovasse is a stern boss who endlessly asks his players for more and gives them detailed instructions.

“When you don’t try to get a rebound, for example, you get scolded by him badly,” Tokashiki said with a wry smile.

But after Sunday’s game, Hovasse praised his players for their tough mind-set.

“Our players really want to win. They don’t want to lose,” he said. “Twenty years ago, Rudy Tomjanovich (who led the Houston Rockets to back-to-back NBA championships) said that his players have got the heart of the champions. I feel the same way with my players.”

In the men’s semifinals, played prior to the women’s final, former NBA Development League player Yuki Togashi gave a stellar performance to help the Chiba Jets make their first trip to the All-Japan final with an 81-75 win over the reigning Emperor’s Cup champion SeaHorses Mikawa.

Diminutive point guard Togashi, who played for the NBDL’s Texas Legends in 2014, racked up 21 points, eight rebounds and six assists while Tyler Stone followed with 15 points and nine boards for the B. League East Division club.

“Rebounding and defense led us to the win,” Jets first-year head coach Atsushi Ono said. “Against Mikawa, which has a height advantage, we grabbed rebounds well, not just with our big men but with our perimeter guys as well. We played defense well for the entire 40 minutes, and it gave us the chance to win the ballgame.”

For the SeaHorses, their backcourt duo of Makoto Hiejima and Kosuke Kanamaru scored 20 points apiece to lead the team.

The Jets will take on Kawasaki Brave Thunders in Monday’s title game after the three-time champions clinched their sixth All-Japan final berth with a 78-71 win over the Alvark Tokyo in the other semifinal.

American ace Nick Fazekas guided the Brave Thunders, who have the best record in the B. League regular season (25-4), to the “W” with 29 points and 11 rebounds.

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