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JPN - Japan remain upbeat after mixed fortunes in friendly tournament

Yuko Oga (JPN)
Yuko Oga (JPN)

SENDAI (FIBA World Championship for Women) - Japan head coach Tomohide Utsumi and captain Yuko Oga are both remaining upbeat after experiencing mixed fortunes in a key friendly tournament ahead of the FIBA World Championship for Women.

In an exhibition programme also targeted with supporting the Great Eastern Japan Earthquake Reconstruction Programme, Utsumi and his players suffered consecutive losses to Australia, but picked up wins in their other games against a Japan B team and Mozambique.

Despite failing to beat the Opals, Japan managed to push them hard in the first meeting and were only just edged out, 80-79, after a pair of free-throws in crunch time by new Opals guard Leilani Mitchell.

There was also plenty of encouragement from excellent displays by Yuka Mamiya, Ramu Tokashiki and Mika Kurihara, who combined for 57 of their team's points in the contest.

While they crashed to a 67-52 defeat in the second match-up, it was mainly due to an outstanding 24 points and 14 boards from powerhouse center Liz Cambage, who showed why she will be one of the box-office stars when the action tips-off in Turkey.

"Australia are such a talented team and one which is also technically very good," mused Utsumi in the wake of the losses.

"They can make you play in a way that you do not want to play.

"We want to play organised both on offense and defense in the future if we want to win games at the FIBA World Championship for Women.

"So I was very happy we were able to match-up reasonably well with a team ranked as one of the best team in the world like Australia."

Bouncing back from successive defeats against their FIBA Oceania visitors, Japan were able to rack up a huge 85-34 success against Mozambique who will also step out at the FIBA World Championship for Women in Ankara.

They also recorded a triumph against their compatriots playing in the Japan B team - thanks mainly to a stellar 31 point haul from the in-form Tokashiki.

Having finished on a high, team captain Oga explained that her side had grown as the competition unfolded.

"I think our team can communicate very well this year," she insisted.

"While the tone was not very good at first from each of us as individuals playing in the tournament, it became  possible for us  to gradually find  a way to hit our shots and this was connected to self-confidence."

Australia comfortably won the tournament after going unbeaten and signing off with a crushing 88-36 success against Mozambique.

There was also added good news for Opals play-caller Brendan Joyce with the return to action of Rachel Jarry after her long-term knee injury.