21 - 29
July 2018
15 Aika Hirashita (JPN)
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Aika Hirashita and Japan set sights on podium, hope for Australia redemption

MINSK (FIBA U17 Women's Basketball World Cup 2018) - Japan have competed at all four editions to date of the FIBA U17 Women's Basketball World Cup and their sights are set on achieving a first-ever podium finish at the fifth one.

Their 100 percent participation record in the competition was confirmed off the back of a third consecutive Final appearance at the FIBA U16 Women's Asian Championship.

And, last year’s defeat against Australia in the title game in Bengaluru still hurts. Japan led by as many as 13 points in the third quarter only to ultimately go down 61-60.

Hirashita and Japan just came up short of winning the U16 Asia Women's title last year

Aika Hirashita led her side with 13.3 points and 7.5 rebounds per game and scored a game-high 15 points in the Final as Japan were resigned to finishing runners-up.

"When I think about the game against Australia, there are regrets," she admits. "We did not take our chance against a big team, but I learnt a lot of things and will try to do whatever I can to help the team now.

"We want to play Australia in this tournament and we are all thinking about trying to get a medal."

Japan have a good track record at the U17 Women's World Cup with three Quarter-Final appearances in four tournaments. Their only time missing out on the Last Eight came in Zaragoza two years ago, when they lost to France in the Round of 16.

They came unstuck against the same opponents in their opening game in Minsk on Saturday, losing 60-53 but bounced back with an emphatic 104-52 victory against the hosts, Belarus.

Hirashita scored 13 points in 16 minutes as all 12 players got onto the scoresheet to help Japan become the first team to score 100 or more points in the tournament.

"I enjoyed the win," said the 5ft 9in (1.75m) forward. "At the beginning of the game, I was very anxious, but I got used to it and was able to enjoy the atmosphere.

"We are a very small team so we try to use our quickness as an advantage and have very good chemistry."

The future is encouraging for Japan's youth at a time when the senior women's team is also enjoying success, having triumphed at the FIBA Women's Asia Cup 2017.

Becoming a champion - at world and/or continental level - is a goal that Hirashita wants to replicate when her time with the senior side comes.

But for now, her full focus is on eclipsing the 4th-place finish registered at this event in 2012 by making it onto the podium for the first time.