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[JAPAN SPORTS NOTEBOOK] Chiba Jets Whip Ryukyu Golden Kings in the Emperor's Cup Final

Days after winning the East Asia Super League final, the Chiba Jets dominated the final three quarters of the All Japan Basketball Championship final.

At the end of the first quarter, the Chiba Jets held a four-point lead over the Ryukyu Golden Kings. And it looked like a classic back-and-forth duel between two fierce rivals.

After all, there were six ties in the opening 10 minutes of the 99th All Japan Basketball Championship final at Saitama Super Arena on Saturday, March 16.

But that abruptly changed as Chiba coach John Patrick's team transformed that slim lead into a 16-point advantage by halftime. That trend continued in the third and fourth quarters as the Jets cruised to a 117-69 victory over the reigning B.League champions.

Saturday's showdown was a rematch of the 98th Emperor's Cup final in March 2023. Chiba won that encounter 87-76 in Tokyo for its fourth All Japan Basketball Championship crown, following a three-peat in 2017-19.

It was also another high-stakes clash of the teams that met in the 2023 B.League Finals. The Jets entered the playoffs with a league-record 53 wins in 60 games but fell to the Golden Kings in a two-game sweep.

This season, the Jets have a possible shot at winning a championship treble.

For starters, remember this: The Chiba Jets captured the East Asia Super League title by beating the Korean Basketball League's Seoul SK Knights 72-69 on March 10 in Cebu province, Philippines. And the Jets appeared to be playing with supreme confidence as Saturday's game marched on in Saitama.

Chiba Jets
Chiba Jets floor leader Yuki Togashi shoots a jumper over Ryukyu Golden Kings captain Ryuichi Kishimoto. (KYODO)

Pivotal Scoring Sequence for the Chiba Jets

After Ryukyu's Vic Law made a 2-point shot to pull his team to within 27-23 early in the second quarter, Chiba knocked down three consecutive 3-pointers, the first by Ira Brown and two more by Emperor's Cup MVP Yuki Togashi to take a 36-23 lead with 7:14 remaining in the opening half.

The Jets led 48-32 at halftime, and their hot-shooting performance continued in the third quarter as they built an insurmountable lead.

In the middle two periods, Chiba outscored Ryukyu 60-28.

As a result, the Golden Kings trailed 75-49 entering the fourth quarter.

Tourney MVP Togashi shared his thoughts on the runaway victory after the game in an interview with NHK.

In conveying his feelings about the outcome, the Chiba Jets captain said, "I can only say that it was great, 15,000 fans came to the game, and I was happy to be able to play in this atmosphere."

Chiba Jets
Jets star Yuki Togashi drives to the basket past Golden Kings forward Allen Durham. (KYODO)

Jets Rely on a Balanced Offensive Attack

Led by American swingman Christopher Smith, who had a game-high 26 points and dished out six assists, the Chiba Jets finished with five double-digit scorers and they sank 21 of 37 3-point shots. 

The others: Togashi (20 points, including a tone-setting 6-for-9 from 3-point range, and eight assists), big man John Mooney (17 points, 14 rebounds), backup point guard Asato Ogawa (14 points) and forward Xavier Cooks (13 points). 

Ren Kanechika and Brown chipped in with nine points apiece and Shuta Hara added eight.

Analyzing the Chiba Jets' impressive offensive performance, Togashi, speaking to NHK, summed it up this way: "We were able to get the ball rolling as a team and get open to shoot. So everyone was able to score points and we had a great offensive game. I think it was the result of all team members working together."

Chiba Jets
Tournament MVP Yuki Togashi (KYODO)

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Jets Control the Game

For most of the game, Ryukyu was unable to slow down Chiba's high-powered offense.

"After the first shots by Togashi and Smith, who we were wary of, we lost our pace, and as a result, the margin was too large," Golden Kings coach Dai Oketani told NHK after the game. 

"We will continue to fight one by one in the last half of the B.League season so that we can return what we have gained from this loss to our fans in the form of results."

Ryukyu's Allen Durham and Ryuichi Kishimoto shared the team lead in points (13). Law added 12 and Jack Cooley had 11 for the Golden Kings, who were held to 6-for-26 shooting from 3-point range.

Chiba Jets
Ryukyu's Keita Imamura dribbles as Chiba's Xavier Cooks defends in the championship match. (KYODO)

B.League Season Update for Chiba and Ryukyu

The Chiba Jets are 27-15 and in third place in the B.League's Eastern Conference, owning the best record among the wild-card contenders. 

Meanwhile, the Golden Kings lead the Western Conference with a 30-12 record and look to bounce back with a stronger performance once the B.League schedule resumes on Wednesday, March 20.

Ryukyu, which has won seven straight regular-season games, faces the visiting Osaka Evessa on that day, while Chiba travels to play the Ibaraki Robots.

The Jets are focused on playing strong for their final 20 games of the regular season before the playoffs start while seeking to climb in the standings, according to Togashi.

"We are behind in the league this season," the Chiba Jets floor leader told NHK. "But we want to continue this momentum and make up for the disappointment of losing to Ryukyu in the finals last year."

Chiba's John Mooney (33) and Ren Kanechika defend Ryukyu's Ryuichi Kishimoto in the Emperor's Cup final. (KYODO)

All-Tournament Team Announced

After the Emperor's Cup final, Togashi was named tournament MVP. He was the EASL Final Four MVP a week earlier.

Togashi and Chiba Jets teammates Mooney and Smith, products of the University of Notre Dame and Utah State, respectively, were chosen for the Best Five Team, aka the all-tournament team. Kishimoto and Utsunomiya Brex star Makoto Hiejima were also named to the team.


Chicago Cubs left-hander Shota Imanaga pitches against the Oakland A's on March 14 in Mesa, Arizona. (KYODO)


Cubs' Imanaga Has a Banner Outing Against A's

Over 4⅓ innings in a spring training game, Chicago Cubs newcomer Shota Imanaga scattered three hits and struck out nine batters on Thursday, March 14 against the Oakland A's in Mesa, Arizona.

Imanaga, who previously pitched for NPB's Yokohama DeNA BayStars, threw 70 pitches. He didn't walk a batter. It was the 30-year-old's third start of the spring. He's 2-1 with a 4.66 ERA in 9⅔ innings with 19 strikeouts.

"I felt very good while playing catch before the game, so I wanted to carry that into the game," the 30-year-old said, according to Kyodo News after the game against Oakland. "I want to consider my fastball to be completely different from the one I threw in Japan. It's good that it worked reliably that way today."

In addition, Imanaga commented that "I was able to consistently throw my good fastball," Nikkan Sports reported.

Yokohama F. Marinos star Anderson Lopes scores a second-half goal against Shandong Taishan in an Asian Champions League quarterfinal second-leg match at Nissan Stadium on March 13. (KYODO)


Marinos Advance to Asian Champions League Semifinals for the First Time

Anderson Lopes' 75th-minute goal lifted Yokohama F. Marinos to a 1-0 home victory over Chinese opponent Shandong Taisan in an Asian Champions League quarterfinal second-leg match on Wednesday, March 13.

The Brazilian goalscorer found his target with a strong left-footed blast on a volley.

In China, Marinos won the quarterfinal first leg 2-1 on March 6 at Jinan Olympic Sports Center Stadium.

By eliminating Shandong Taisan, Yokohama earned a spot in the ACL semifinals for the first time in franchise history.

After securing a spot in the continental tourney's last four, Marinos captain Takuya Kida described his on-field leadership approach.

"I wanted to organize the team with myself at the center, and I never wanted to break down the team," Kida told reporters, according to the Soccer Digest website.

He added, "I thought I should be responsible for that, and I should be in charge of the placement and positioning of the players. [And] I talked with the players around me and I think we were able to fight as a team."

Marinos will face Korean squad Ulsan Hyundai in the semifinals, with matches set for April 17 in Ulsan and April 24 in Yokohama.

Japan men's rugby head coach Eddie Jones speaks at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan in Tokyo on March 13. (KYODO)


Brave Blossoms Coach Jones Highlights Vision for Team at Press Conference

Speaking in Tokyo at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan, Eddie Jones was in the spotlight on Wednesday, March 13.

It was a golden opportunity for the Japan men's rugby national team's recently appointed head coach to offer comprehensive details about his vision to elevate the squad on the global stage.

Jones, 64, previously coached the Brave Blossoms from 2012-15. He had subsequent stints leading England (2015-22, including a runner-up finish at the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan) and Australia (2023).

"There's no reason why we can't jump into the top four," Jones said at the FCCJ news conference, according to Reuters, outlining his ambitious goal for the team to climb into the top quartet of rugby squads in the world. "We need to create a new style of play that is adventurous, that suits Japanese instincts, that is attacking."

A big test awaits the Brave Blossoms at the start of summer. Japan, currently ranked 12th in the world, is preparing to face world No 5 England on June 22 at Tokyo's National Stadium. It will be Jones' first match in charge in his second stint with the Brave Blossoms.

Physical talent is important to succeed in the hard-nosed sport, according to Jones. But he told the gathered press that confidence and mental fortitude are important as well for players.

"Firstly, we've got to give them encouragement, and that's one of my major jobs initially … because we need those young players in Japan to think they can be the next [MLB superstar Shohei] Ohtani of rugby," Jones was quoted as saying by Kyodo News. "And at the moment they can't think like that, and we need them to think like that."


Yokohama native Kokoro Nakazawa in a file photo. (University of Louisville Athletics)


Nakazawa Surpasses Her Goal Tally from 2023

University of Louisville women's lacrosse player Kokoro Nakazawa, a senior attacker, is the team's leading scorer with 28 goals and 11 assists in eight games. The Yokohama native had 22 goals in 17 matches for the Louisville Cardinals in the 2023 season.

Louisville has three victories in its first eight matches to open the season. Its last three defeats were by a combined 10 goals, including a 17-14 setback to No 3 Boston College in its most recent match on March 10.

"The offense worked well and stuck together," Nakazawa said of her team after the match, according to the school's athletics department website. "We were trying to move the ball quickly and we were playing for each other."

Wrestler Akari Fujinami works out at the Ajinomoto National Training Center in Tokyo on January 4. (KYODO)


Two-Time World Champ Fujinami Injures Elbow

Star wrestler Akari Fujinami is coping with a dislocated right elbow that will force her to skip the Asian Wrestling Championships. That event will be held April 11-16 in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.

Toshikazu Fujinami, the two-time world champion's father and coach, made the announcement on Thursday, March 14.

Two-time world champion Fujinami, 20, tore ligaments in her elbow while training on the same day. Surgery is a possibility.

The 53-kg wrestling star has won 133 consecutive matches, a remarkable streak that began in 2017. Before the injury, Fujinami had been listed as the favorite to win the 53-kg gold medal at the Paris Olympics. Now her participation appears to be a question mark.

"To win a gold medal at the Olympics, she will first focus on treatment," Toshikazu Fujinami was quoted as saying by Kyodo News.


Celtic FC's Daizen Maeda scores his third goal against Livingston in the second half of a Scottish Cup quarterfinal match on March 10 in Glasgow. (KYODO)

Quote of the Week

"It's brilliant from Daizen to get the hat trick. His movement, his runs, his desire to get in has got him his goals. So I'm delighted for him."

Celtic FC manager Brendan Rogers on winger Daizen Maeda scoring three goals in his 100th game in a Celtic jersey, leading his club to a 4-2 win over Livingston in the Scottish Cup quarterfinals on March 10.

Watch highlights of Maeda's hat trick on Celtic's official website.

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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