Asia Cup: Four in a row for Japan

Asia Cup: Four in a row for Japan

Japan team celebrate after winning the FIBA Women's Asia Cup in Bengaluru on Sunday. DH Photo/ Pushkar V

Japan completed a four-peat in the Division A FIBA Women’s Asia Cup basketball tournament with a thrilling 71-68 victory over China in the final at the Sree Kanteerava Indoor Stadium here on Sunday.

The Akatsuki Five became only the third nation after South Korea and China in the history of the championship to achieve the feat. Japan had previously won the title in 2013, 2015 and 2017.

Nako Motohashi, the diminutive point guard, was again the chief architect of Japan’s success. The 25-year-old, adjudged the Most Valuable Player (MVP), came up with 24 points and eight assists. Not far behind was captain Maki Takada, who had 14 points, including two three-pointers and nine rebounds.

The 6’ 9’’ centre Xu Han, who was drafted by New York Liberty in the WNBA earlier this year, led the charts for the 11-time champions China with 18 points and seven rebounds.  

It was a battle between Motohashi and Han as the game went to the wire with Japan holding a three-point lead (54-51) over China after the third quarter.

In the final 10 minutes, Han, included in the All-star team, cut the gap (58-56) but Motohashi, who was proving impossible to deal with, made back-to-back baskets to extend the lead (60-56).

China came with a touching distance of Japan when Yuan Li came up with a three-pointer (64-61) but Motohashi threw a jump shot from outside the arc to stretch the lead (67-61).

Japan had a 69-63 lead with 2:57 remaining on the clock. Ramu Tokashiki further calmed their nerves as she stole the ball from China’s Wu Tongtong and passed to Yuki Miyazawa, who took Japan to 71-point mark.

Soonafter, Han and Tongtong took China to 71-68. With nine seconds left and China needing three points to equalise, Shao Ting missed her throw from the last play of the game, much to the delight of the Japanese.

Earlier, Australia defeated South Korea 98-52 to finish third in the tournament.

Japanese coach Tom Hovasse, thrilled with the victory, showered praise on his team, singling out the performance of Motohashi.

“She was not even a national team member. She was in the 10th placed team in the league, we invited her for tryouts and she just was unbelievable from the beginning and kept getting better and better,” said Hovasse at the post-match conference.

“To where she was a year and half ago and where is now, it’s an amazing story”.

Looking ahead, Hovasse is confident of coming up with a shock at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. “We have very lofty goal and this is a very big towards that. We don’t stop here, this is just something along our journey, which will be in Tokyo in 2020. We are going to shock the world over there,” he signed off.

Results: Final: Japan: 71 (Nako Motohashi 24, Maki Takada 14) bt China: 68 (Xu Han 18, Li Yuan 10).

Third-place playoff: Australia: 98 (Rebecca Allen 20, Darcee Garbin 13, Ezi Magbegor 11, Katie Ezbery 11, Cayla George 10) bt South Korea: 52 (Hyejin Park 13, Mnjeong Kim 13, Seul Ku 12).

All-star team: Rebecca Allen (Australia), Xu Han (China), Nako Motohashi (Japan), Shao Ting (China), Yuki Miyazawa (Japan).

Most Valuable Player (MVP): Nako Motohashi (Japan).

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