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The Japanese women’s wheelchair basketball team made a dream start to the Tokyo Paralympics by blowing out Australia on Wednesday, but veteran forward Mari Amimoto says the side must not get carried away with its big win over a regional rival.

The 73-47 victory at Musashino Forest Sport Plaza is hopefully just the first step on a path that will lead Japan to the podium, Amimoto said.

“We won today, but we have to continue to win. So we’ll focus on tomorrow,” said Amimoto, who contributed 13 points as part of a balanced Japanese attack.

After taking a 34-28 lead into halftime, Japan broke away in the second half, outscoring 2012 silver medalists Australia 18-11 in the third quarter and 21-8 in the fourth.

One of four Japanese players to reach double-digits, Chihiro Kitada, top scored for the host nation with 16 points, while Australia’s Amber Merritt led all scorers with 18.

Amimoto said Japan had planned to move the ball quickly to neutralize Australia’s size advantage in the front court.

“Our basketball is very quick in transition. We are not tall. We are a very small team and we play together, with transition and early offense,” said Amimoto, who made her Paralympic debut at the 2008 Beijing Games, when Japan last qualified for women’s wheelchair basketball.

One of just three players remaining from Beijing, the 32-year-old Osaka native said she had a responsibility to guide younger members of the team in the bid for Japan’s first medal in the sport since a bronze at the 2000 Sydney Games.

“Many players don’t know about the Paralympic Games. We couldn’t go to London or Rio de Janeiro, so (even) for me, it’s just the second Paralympics,” said Amimoto, who picked up wheelchair basketball at 15 after a club foot made it too difficult for her to continue playing the standing form of the game.

While the team is focused on upcoming games against Britain, Canada and Germany, the win over a normally troublesome Australian side was a vital barometer of Japan’s strength after a year and a half without international competition amid the coronavirus pandemic, Amimoto said.

“It was very important for us to win. We lost against Australia so many times, (so) it was a very important game,” she said.

While playing behind closed doors in Tokyo is vastly different to the raucous crowds of Beijing, the games experience has so far been enjoyable for Amimoto, whose career has included stints with clubs in Australia, Spain and Germany.

“I thought I would get more nervous, but I wasn’t,” she said. “(I haven’t felt) stress, the volunteers and staff have been very kind helping us.”

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