Basketball

Sunflowers see off early challenge to rout Iris in All-Japan Championship final

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

Star center Maki Takada kept hitting jumpers and the Denso Iris were giving the undisputed best women’s team in Japan a challenge early in their contest.

But the Sunflowers responded, making wise adjustments both offensively and defensively, and finished the game in their usual dominating fashion.

Jx-Eneos trailed the Iris 16-15 at the end of the first quarter, but regrouped in the second and went on to rout their opponents 84-62 in the women’s final of the All-Japan Championship at Saitama Super Arena on Sunday.

The Sunflowers completed a five-peat in the annual New Year’s tourney, earning their 22nd Empress’ Cup.

Versatile forward Yuki Miyazawa had 19 points, knocking down two 3-pointers, to lead the Sunflowers, who have captured nine straight championships in the Women’s Japan Basketball League. Stars Ramu Tokashiki and Yuka Osaki chipped in with 17 and 16 points, respectively, for the Kashiwa, Chiba Prefecture-based club.

Miyazawa was selected as the tournament MVP.

“We weren’t moving our feet well and we weren’t adjusting to our opponents’ defense and it gave us some trouble in the first quarter, but we started playing our brand of ball from the second quarter on,” Jx-Eneos head coach Kiyomi Sato said after the game. “And we were able to win all the games by 20 points or more. So overall, it was a good tournament for us.”

For the Iris, Takada went 11-for-13 from the field for a game-high 27 points. The Kariya, Aichi Prefecture-based Iris outrebounded Jx-Eneos 31-28.

“We played our own basketball, but from the second quarter on, they began showing how good they are,” Takada said. “We wanted to become the best team in Japan. It’s frustrating to finish as the runner-ups, but we’ve added seven new players this year and having competed against Jx in the final, it gave us a lot of experience. We need to capitalize on this moving forward.”

The Sunflowers came up short of winning a fifth consecutive crown in the 2013 edition, in which they fell to the Toyota Antelopes in the final.

Jx-Eneos captain Asami Yoshida said her team was looking for “revenge,” so the accomplishment was meaningful and would provide a boost in their quest for the WJBL championship in March.

“I believed it would be us who would win the game in the end. We were playing to win for the entire 40 minutes,” said Yoshida, also the point guard for the Japan national team. “Our goal (for the season) is to win the two titles. Now we’ve made “one sunflower” bloom. Next up, it’ll be the league championship.”

The Sunflowers have reigned over the court in the women’s hoops scene in Japan for years. The question has been who will be able to topple their dynasty.

But for the Sunflowers, winning never gets old.

Yoshida was humble after the game, saying the Sunflowers, who are 15-1 in the WJBL this season, are “not a strong team.”

“We are still in the growing process,” the 30-year-old emphasized. “Our team has goals to achieve, and we are just competing to do it. Before, we would be aware of what other people were saying, but we aren’t now.”

Tokashiki, Miyazawa, Osaki, Takada, and Sakura Akaho of Denso were chosen for the all-tournament team.

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