• Kyodo

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A 26-point explosion from Saki Mizushima helped carry Japan past Australia in the final of the inaugural FIBA Women’s Asia Cup on Saturday.

Mizushima had been a non-factor through most of the tournament played in Bangalore, India, but her scoring punch proved the difference in allowing Japan to defend its Asian title, 74-73.

The 26-year-old shooting guard shot 8-for-13 from the floor, including a 7-for-9 from deep, but her most important basket came with 86 seconds to play when she made a three-pointer to break a 71-71 deadlock.

“I heated up when the team was in a tight spot near the end of the game,” said Mizushima.

“I had confidence and I am happy that I could score well with my shots. Hopefully I can keep on reminding people of what I am all about.”

Australia’s star player at the tournament, Kelsey Griffin, made a layup to cut the deficit to a single point with just over a minute to go, but Japan held on to beat the world No. 4 and five-time Olympic medalist.

Breakout point guard Manami Fujioka again played an important role for Japan, finishing with four points and six assists, while Yuki Miyazawa’s 11 points and Moeko Nagaoka’s 10 provided solid backup.

For Australia, tournament MVP Griffin put in a spectacular 30-point, 15-rebound effort, while veteran Marianna Tolo chipped in 13 points, eight rebounds and four assists.

The win gave Japan’s its fourth Asian title (the previous tournaments were known as the FIBA Asia Championship for Women), and third consecutive after the team won in 2013 and 2015. This one is more significant given women’s basketball powerhouse Australia took part in the regional event for the first time.

Fujioka and Nagaoka were named to the tournament All-Star team, along with Griffin, China’s Li Yueru and South Korea’s Lim Yung-hui.

Fujioka’s 11.3-point average put her in a tie for seventh on the tournament scoring list and she led all players in assists, with 8.2 per game. Nagaoka was Japan’s most reliable scorer, averaging 13.7 points per game.

China beat South Korea in the third-fourth playoff, 75-51.

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