Basketball

Japan wins big in Women's Asia Cup opener

Kyodo

Japan blew out the Philippines by 51 points for a 106-55 win in its opening match of the Women’s Asia Cup on Sunday.

Keyed by 21 points from 22-year-old small forward Evelyn Mawuli, Japan broke the Filipinos’ spirit early and was never challenged before closing out the game.

Akatsuki Five coach Tom Hovasse kept his starting five rooted to the pine for much of the game, allowing his bench players to do the heavy lifting with an eye on the more challenging opponents to come.

Had Manami Fujioka been more selfish she would likely have finished with a triple-double. She scored six points, on just five shot attempts, while grabbing 10 rebounds and handing out 10 assists.

With Japan missing Seattle Storm power forward Ramu Tokashiki, who is averaging 13 minutes per game in the ongoing WNBA season, the team will lean heavily on Rio Olympics standout Asami Yoshida.

On Sunday, Yoshida had five assists and did not attempt a shot in her five minutes of court time.

Japan entered the top Asian competition, which was previously known as the Asian Championships, as the defending champion having won at the most recent event in 2015 in Wuhan, China. There, the Japanese beat the hosts in the final to claim the team’s third title.

Japan next plays 12-time Asian champion South Korea, with tournament debutant and world No. 4 Australia its final group-phase opponent. Australia demolished South Korea 78-54 on Sunday.

Likely group winner Australia — the 2006 world champion and five-time Olympic medalist — along with New Zealand join the competition for the first time in India, with the Oceania region not providing a path to the Women’s Basketball World Cup.

The top-four finishers at the Asia Cup qualify to play in the inaugural World Cup, to be held in Spain in 2018.