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B.League's Utsunomiya Brex Extend Winning Streak to Nine

After back-to-back wins over the Nagasaki Velca, the Utsunomiya Brex are tied with the Alvark Tokyo for the best record in the B.League's Eastern Conference.

Is Atsuya Ogawa a good-luck charm for the Utsunomiya Brex?

It's hard to argue with that idea. After all, the B.League title-chasing team is unbeaten since the 21-year-old point guard made his 2023-24 B.League season debut on January 27. 

That said, Utsunomiya opened the season with 11 victories in 14 games, serving notice that coach Norio Sassa's club would be among the league's elite clubs.

Ogawa, a University of Tsukuba student, has appeared in seven of the Brex's last nine games, giving the team youthful exuberance off the bench. He also played in three games in the previous season in February 2023 as a specially designated player under contract as an amateur.

Upon returning to the Brex in January 2024, Ogawa expressed enthusiasm for the opportunity.

"I will do my best to contribute to the team as much as possible," the 190-cm guard was quoted as saying by Nikkan Sports.

On Sunday, February 11, Ogawa scored nine points on 4-for-6 shooting. He drained his lone free-throw attempt and dished out two assists in 9-plus productive minutes in Utsunomiya's 97-76 home victory in its series finale against the Nagasaki Velca on Sunday, February 11 at Brex Arena Utsunomiya.

Ogawa has had limited playing time for Utsunomiya, averaging 4 minutes and 31 seconds per game. At the same time, his team is in the midst of an impressive run.

Bolstered by a nine-game winning streak, the Brex (32-7) are tied with the Alvark Tokyo for the best record in the Eastern Conference. 

Utsunomiya Brex
Brex guard Atsuya Ogawa releases a high-arcing jumper over Velca guard Kenji Leon Matsumoto in the series finale. (B.LEAGUE)

A Quick Update on the B.League Playoff Picture

Furthermore, the Chiba Jets (25-14) are in position to qualify for the postseason as a wild card. (The top two finishers in the East, Central and West advance to the playoffs plus two wild cards make up the eight-team playoff field.) 

Meanwhile, the East's Akita Northern Happinets and the Gunma Crane Thunders (both with 21-18 records) are aiming to improve their playoff prospects when the regular season resumes in early March. Gunma has won six straight.

A quick look at the Central: The San-en NeoPhoenix (34-5) are running away with the conference crown, followed by the SeaHorses Mikawa (25-14), and the Sunrockers Shibuya and Kawasaki Brave Thunders (with identical 21-18 records).

In the West, the Ryukyu Golden Kings (27-12) and the Nagoya Diamond Dolphins (26-13, winners of nine straight) are the top squads. The Shimane Susanoo Magic (22-17) and the Hiroshima Dragonflies (21-18) are in third and fourth place, respectively.

Utsunomiya Brex
Brex guard Hironori Watanabe has helped his team win nine straight games. (B.LEAGUE)

Utsunomiya Brex Jump Out to Commanding Lead in Latest Game

On Sunday, the Brex excelled on offense in the first quarter, making 13 of 16 shots from the floor, including 7-for-9 from 3-point range. Early on, the Velca had no answer defensively to stop the hosts. 

As a result, Utsunomiya led 37-15 entering the second quarter. Starting guards DJ Newbill (10 points) and Makoto Hiejima (seven) sparked the Brex in the opening stanza.

Nagasaki trailed 56-27 at halftime.

Velca coach Kenjiro Maeda's club opened the third quarter with a 14-0 run to cut the lead to 56-41.

The Brex regained their competitive edge and entered the fourth quarter holding a 74-50 advantage.

Most of Ogawa's minutes came in the final period, and he capitalized on the opportunity, scoring seven points in the fourth, including back-to-back baskets on a nifty running jumper and a layup to make it 83-60 with 5:52 remaining.

"I have to earn playing time myself, so I want to be someone that people think is necessary for the game," Ogawa told reporters later.

Utsunomiya Brex
DJ Newbill leads the Brex in scoring (16.1 points) and assists (4.7) through February 11. (B.LEAGUE)

Newbill, a Penn State alum, finished with team-high totals in points (19) and assists (six). American forward Grant Jerrett had 13 points and Japan national team standout Hiejima added 12 points and four assists. Veteran guard Seiji Ikaruga scored 10 points, as did New Zealander Isaac Fotu, who also grabbed nine rebounds. Yusuke Endo contributed six points. Gavin Edwards had four of Utsunomiya's 13 steals.

As a team, the Brex shot 56.7% (38 of 67) from the floor. They also outscored the Velca 52-34 in the paint.

Utsunomiya Brex
Nagasaki's Matt Bonds (left) and Utsunomiya's Grant Jerrett vie for a rebound. (B.LEAGUE)

Matt Bonds led Nagasaki (16-23) with 25 points and Yudai Baba and Nick Perkins scored 11 points apiece.

Utsunomiya won the series opener 101-81 on Saturday, February 10.

Utsunomiya Brex
Veteran guard Seiji Ikaruga shoots a layup in the series finale against Nagasaki. (B.LEAGUE)

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Comments After Sunday's Game

"At the start of the second half, we were pushed by the intensity of our opponents and lost some points from turnovers," Ikaruga told reporters. "I think we are becoming a team that can win even in high-scoring games."

For the Brex, Sassa acknowledged there were positive and negative takeaways from the game.

"The way we started the first quarter with a lot of intensity was great," Sassa said after the game. "We must reflect on the start of the second half."

After the Velca dropped two straight games in Tochigi Prefecture over the weekend, veteran swingman Baba, who is averaging 14.3 points per game, said there's a big gap between the teams' levels of experience competing in the B.League first division. The Velca were promoted from the second division to B1 after the 2022-23 season.

Utsunomiya Brex
Velca standout Yudai Baba runs the offense at Brex Arena Utsunomiya. (B.LEAGUE)

"I think it is a difference in experience," said Baba, who played for the NBA G League's Texas Legends in 2022-23. "Utsunomiya thoroughly changed the plays that worked for us yesterday (Saturday), and we started with the fact that we couldn't fully attack them.

"We were unable to close the gap at the beginning and ended up finishing the game [stronger]. So I thought the head coach did a great job in that respect."

Utsunomiya returns to action on Saturday, March 2 against visiting Shibuya in the opener of a two-game B.League series. On the same day, Nagasaki plays host to Gunma. 

Emperor's Cup Update

In the 99th All Japan Basketball Championship's semifinal round on Wednesday, February 14, the Golden Kings defeated the Brave Thunders 98-70 in Okinawa City. Also on Valentine's Day, in Funabashi, Chiba Prefecture, the Jets overcame a 24-6 deficit after one quarter to beat the Brex 76-72 in the other semifinal.

Ryukyu meets Chiba in the Emperor's Cup final on March 16 at Saitama Super Arena.

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Author: Ed Odeven

Find Ed on JAPAN Forward's dedicated website, SportsLook. Follow his [Japan Sports Notebook] on Sundays, [Odds and Evens] during the week, and X (formerly Twitter) @ed_odeven.

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