TOYAMA – One night after its crushing victory over Qatar in the second round of the FIBA World Cup Asian qualifiers, the Akatsuki Five have no intention of lowering their guard even for a bit.
The Japan men’s national team, which cruised past the Middle Eastern nation 85-47, returned to the court quickly on Saturday. It held a practice to prepare for its upcoming game against Kazakhstan at Toyama City Gymnasium.
Japan defeated Kazakhstan 85-70 in Almaty in September’s previous window, thanks in part to the participation of stars Rui Hachimura and Yuta Watanabe, who are not with the team now.
But Japan bench boss Julio Lamas said that the second matchup against the Central Asian country, which will be held on Monday night, would be a different animal.
“We expect a tough game against Kazakhstan,” Lamas said after the practice, which was closed to the media. “We played almost perfectly when we played against them away, but it’s going to be a whole new game against the same opponent. They are striving for a spot in the World Cup just like ourselves.”
The Argentine said that Kazakhstan is big and can grab offensive rebounds, which could give his team some challenges.
“We will get in the game with a warrior’s mindset,” Lamas said. “Because you played against the same opponent well last time out, it doesn’t mean you can do it again. It’s the same thing about our performance in the second half yesterday.”
On Friday, Japan struggled in the opening half against Qatar (and trailed 32-31 entering the third quarter), but overwhelmed its opponent in the second half, limiting it to just 15 points in the final 20 minutes.
“We are not going to brag about (those victories),” Lamas said. “We are just playing a different game and need to shift our minds.”
Japan point guard Yuki Togashi twisted his ankle during the Qatar game and did not practice on Saturday. But Lamas expressed confidence that the diminutive player would be back on the court on Monday.
After Togashi was sidelined due to the injury, Daiki Tanaka took over as a temporary point guard. Lamas hinted that Tanaka and another shooting guard, Makoto Hiejima, would be ready to fill in at the point against Kazakhstan if necessary.
As stated above, Japan had Hachimura and Watanabe in its previous Kazakhstan game. But against Qatar, other guys like Tanaka, Hiejima and Yudai Baba stepped up and filled the void.
When asked if his team has raised the bar based on Friday’s performance, center Nick Fazekas agreed with that viewpoint.
“At the end of the day, these other guys, they are going to have to come to play,” said Fazekas, who had a game-high 19 points and 10 rebounds on Friday. “Lamas kind of stressed like, ‘Hey, we want you guys to take the initiative and make plays as well. Don’t just rely on Nick to make plays or rely on your teammates to make plays.’ If you can have the chance to make the play, make the play.
“We’ve played plenty of B. League games, so we know that Daiki, Baba, Mako (Hiejima), all those guys can make plays. So there’s no reason why they shouldn’t go out there and do it.”