Basketball

Sunrockers, Brave Thunders advance to Emperor's Cup final

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

The dynamic duo of Sebastian Saiz and Ryan Kelly guided the Sunrockers Shibuya to their first Emperor’s Cup gold-medal game with a 96-69 win over the Shiga Lakestars in the All-Japan Basketball Championship semifinals at Saitama Super Arena on Saturday.

Saiz, a 205-cm Spaniard, collected 20 points, eight rebounds and two steals, while former Duke University big man Kelly contributed 14 points and seven boards for the Sunrockers, who captured the annual single-elimination new year tourney crown in 2015.

The Sunrockers struggled to have successful seasons since the B. League was inaugurated in 2016. But this season, they have made impressive improvements impressed, posting a 19-9 record through last weekend and earning a chance to earn their first title in the B. League era.

“Yeah, it’ll be the first time for us to be competing in a final since the B. League started,” said veteran forward Kenta Hirose, who is the only remaining member of the Emperor’s Cup-winning team from five years ago. “And we’ll get to be watched by many people, playing at such a big house like Saitama Super Arena. But it’ll be unchanged that we’ll focus on what we need to do.”

Shibuya set the pace of the game from the opening quarter, taking advantage of its defensive effort. The Sunrockers entered halftime with a 42-28 lead and kept expanding their advantage in the latter half en route to a lopsided victory.

Rookie guard Kaito Morizane, who is considered one of the best collegiate players in recent years, stole the spotlight in the final quarter. The 22-year-old Morizane, who joined the pro club late last month while still attending Senshu University, scored 13 points, all in the fourth quarter.

In the other men’s semifinal contest, the Kawasaki Brave Thunders maintained their aggressiveness at both ends of the court in an 82-61 win over the Utsunomiya Brex.

American Jordan Heath knocked down five 3-pointers and finished with 21 points and teammate Nick Fazekas, a naturalized Japanese citizen, chipped in with 17 points for the Brave Thunders, who won the tournament title in 2014.

The Brave Thunders, who recently lost starting point guard Ryusei Shinoyama to a dislocated left elbow, used shooting guard Naoto Tsuji as their emergency playmaker. Point guard Yuma Fujii didn’t play because he has the flu.

In the women’s semifinals, the six-time reigning Empress’ Cup champion JX-Eneos Sunflowers tamed the Toyota Antelopes 82-48, while the Denso Iris cruised past the Mitsubishi Electric Koalas 75-61.

Both men’s and women’s championship games will be held on Sunday at the same venue.