Basketball

Strong outside shooting carries Japan past Belgium

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

Japan kept hitting shots from beyond the 3-point line and tamed Belgium 91-75 in the first game of their two-game exhibition series at Adastria Mito Arena on Friday night.

Newcomer Saki Hayashi knocked down five 3-pointers in a 19-point performance to lead the Akatsuki Five. Veteran forwards Yuki Miyazawa, who made four 3-pointers, and Moeko Nagaoka had 12 points apiece to spark Japan as well.

Speedy point guard Nako Motohashi also made solid contributions with 10 points, eight assists and four rebounds.

Japan’s long-range shooting was sharp from the early going and it built a 56-38 halftime lead, then extended the advantage to 76-50 at the end of the third quarter. The Europeans bounced back in the final period, but it was a little too late.

“We played at our pace from the beginning and all our players played hard throughout the game,” Japan head coach Tom Hovasse said after the game.

For Japan, nine players made at least one 3-point shot. The team sank 18 shots from beyond the arc against Belgium, which advanced to the semifinals at last year’s FIBA Women’s World Cup.

“Our elder players were running hard from the beginning to give us the pace we played,” 24-year-old Hayashi said. “It was huge for us to play with maximum energy for the entire 40 minutes.”

It was the first international game of the year for Japan, which set a lofty goal of capturing a gold medal at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Japan, which is 10th in the world rankings, has been granted a spot at next year’s Summer Games as the host nation.

The Akatsuki Five will look to defend their title at the FIBA Women’s Asia Cup as the three-time reigning champion. The early autumn tourney will be played at a to-be-announced site.