Basketball

Dynamic duo Rui Hachimura, Nick Fazekas ignite Japan's offense in victory over Australia

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

Rui Hachimura and Nick Fazekas were as good as advertised.

And they helped the Japan men’s national team big time, helped produce a huge win.

Hachimura and Fazekas scored 49 combined points in Japan’s 79-78 victory over Australia in a FIBA World Cup Asian qualifier on Friday night at Chiba Port Arena.

For Japan, which seeks a spot at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, it was its first victory in the first round of qualifiers.

Also Friday, Taiwan lost to the Philippines 93-71 at home, so Japan and Taiwan are now tied at 1-4.

Japan and Taiwan will meet on Monday night in Taipei, and the winner will take the third and final spot in Group B to advance to the second round.

“I’m extremely moved right now,” Japan big man Joji Takeuchi said after the game. “We had some luck, too, but it was an excellent game for us. The two (Hachimura and Fazekas) played well and the rest of us followed them.”

Hachimura said with a smile: “I’m happy we won as a team, so it feels great.”

There was no doubt that newcomers Hachimura and Fazekas have completely turned the team around. Fazekas, who became a naturalized Japanese citizen in April, had a game-high 25 points, and Gonzaga University forward Hachimura scored 24.

With Japan up 77-74, guard Makoto Hiejima grabbed an offensive rebound and threw an outlet pass to Hachimura, who dunked it to secure the win with several seconds remaining.

“I wanted to put the dagger in there. I did it thinking that way,” Hachimura said.

Japan got off to a good start around Hachimura and Fazekas in the early going. The home team entered halftime with a 42-33 lead.

In the third quarter, the Boomers found their pace and took the lead halfway through it. But Fazekas came through and Japan did not let the visitors seize momentum.

Japan played on par with Australia in the rebounding department, too. In their first qualifiers meeting last November, Australia outrebounded Japan 48-21 in a dominating 82-58 win. But in Friday’s match, the rebounding margin was much closer (Australia held a 50-44 advantage. Australia grabbed 22 offensive rebounds as well).

Hachimura and Fazekas accounted for a combined 19 rebounds. The two both hit a pair of 3-pointers apiece and were the Akatsuki Five’s only players to sink shots from behind the arc.

“I don’t really feel like there’s anyone out there that can stop me — I just feel like that that’s how I kind of approach every single game and that’s kind of how I came in tonight,” said Fazekas, who won the MVP award last year and the rebounding title this past season for the Kawasaki Brave Thunders of the B. League.

The 33-year-old added that he wanted to contribute to the national squad just like he does for the Kawasaki, “putting up big numbers” being one of the go-to guys.

“I hope that I was able to do that tonight,” said Fazekas, a former NBA player.

For Australia (4-1 in the first round), shooting guard Christopher James Goulding had 22 points. NBA players Matthew Dellavedova and Thon Maker racked up four and 13 points, respectively.

Australia, the world’s No. 10 team (Japan’s No. 48), shot only 34.1 percent from the field.

Andrej Lemanis, the Boomers head coach, said that his team did not “come out with intensity and intent required to play at this level.” He also said that it is going to be difficult for a team to win when it shoots as bad as his team did.

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