ALMATY, Kazakhstan - Young guns Rui Hachimura and Yuta Watanabe carried the scoring load in helping Japan to an 85-70 win over Kazakhstan in the first game of the second round of FIBA World Cup Asian qualifying on Thursday.
Hachimura finished with 24 points on an efficient 8-for-14 from the floor, including 8-for-9 from the free throw line, and added seven rebounds, while Watanabe struggled with his shot a little (7 of 15) but still tallied 17 points and blocked two shots.
The hulking 203-cm, 102-kg Hachimura, who last season played a bigger role in his second year at Gonzaga University, said the team’s focus on the boards and defensive end proved the difference in what was a must-win game against the central Asians.
Japan’s Argentine coach Julio Lamas echoed his 20-year-old power forward’s sentiments.
“This is a good victory for our team, an important victory. It is the second away (win) and this is important in building the confidence and personality of the team,” Lamas said.
After falling behind early, Japan took the lead in the sixth minute of the first quarter and did not look back, extending the gap to 23 points at one stage before a late Kazakhstan rally cut the deficit to 15.
“(We) played very good defense for 40 minutes, we competed well in rebounds and we controlled the game after the third quarter,” Lamas said.
After starting World Cup qualifying without the services of Hachimura and Watanabe, a 23-year-old swingman who recently inked a two-way contract with the Memphis Grizzlies, Lamas was able to add some star power to a squad that has been lacking in scoring punch.
Recently, the majority of the national team’s scoring load had been carried by Makoto Hiejima, but on Thursday the shooting guard who recently committed to a season in Australia’s National Basketball League, played only 14 minutes, scoring three points, but adding three rebounds, three assists and two steals.