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Slovenia Manhandles Japan in Final FIBA Basketball World Cup Tuneup

Luka Doncic led Slovenia with 23 points in a final tuneup for the FIBA Basketball World Cup. The dazzling playmaker also handed out seven assists.

Slovenia had a game-ending 17-0 run against Japan in the teams' final game before the FIBA Basketball World Cup on Saturday, August 19.

Coach Aleksander Sekulic's squad already held a commanding lead, but the big scoring spurt over the final 3-plus minutes put an emphatic stamp on Slovenia's 103-68 victory at Ariake Arena.

NBA superstar Luka Doncic paced Slovenia with 23 points, seven rebounds and seven assists in just under 28 minutes of court time. Doncic dazzled throughout the game, making no-look passes, launching long-range 3-pointers and exhibiting the all-around athleticism that makes him one of the NBA's most popular players.

Japan had no answer defensively for world No 7 Slovenia's taller lineup. In addition to Doncic, Jaka Blazic (18 points) and Ziga Samar (eight assists) ignited the offense.

Slovenia shot 25-for-37 from inside the 3-point arc on an afternoon when Japan was without NBA forward Yuta Watanabe for the second straight game. Watanabe injured his ankle in the second quarter against Angola on Tuesday, August 15 and left the game. He then sat out Thursday's match against France.

The Phoenix Suns player is expected to return to the lineup for world No 36 Japan's first game in the FIBA Basketball World Cup on August 25 at Okinawa Arena against 11th-ranked Germany.

Japan's offense operates at a higher level with Watanabe on the court, as he helps stretch the floor and create scoring chances for his teammates. He is also a tenacious defender.

Watanabe told the crowd in a short post-game speech that he is determined to make an impact in the upcoming tournament.

"If I can't go to the Paris Olympics with this team," Watanabe added, "I think this will be my last national team activity."

Japan's Makoto Hiejima shoots a layup in the third quarter. (KYODO)

3-Point Shooting Woes for Japan

Against Slovenia, Japan had a poor shooting performance from 3-point range, missing 36 of 46 attempts.

Keisei Tominaga, who finished with 10 points, was 2-for-12 on 3s. Captain Yuki Togashi, who added nine points, was 3-for-9.

Yudai Baba led Japan with 13 points, Josh Hawkinson chipped in with a double-double (12 points, 12 rebounds) and two blocks. Hirotaka Yoshii had eight points and Yuki Kawamura added seven points and nine assists.

Luka Doncic spots up for a jumper as Koya Kawamata defends in the first quarter. (KYODO)

Slovenia Starts to Pull Away

Japan and Slovenia traded baskets in the first quarter. Slovenia led 26-21 entering the second quarter before it started to score points at a quicker pace.

But Japan couldn't keep up with Doncic's razzle-dazzle playmaking, which ignited his team. Slovenia extended its advantage to 50-36 by halftime.

In the third quarter, Slovenia completely dominated, holding Japan to 14 points, and it took a 27-point lead (77-50) into the final period.

Japan was 4-for-16 from the floor in the third quarter and committed five turnovers in that 10-minute span.

For Japan coach Tom Hovasse's team, it was a frustrating stretch of the game.

"If you have too many empty possessions in a row where you don't score, you can quickly find yourselves behind by double digits," Hovasse told reporters after the match, according to Kyodo News.

After Tominaga buried a 3-pointer to pull Japan within 86-68 with 3:36 remaining in the fourth quarter, Slovenia embarked on its 17-0 run to end the game.

Japan's Yudai Baba dunks in the second half. (ⒸJBA)

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Focus Shifts to the FIBA Basketball World Cup

As Japan shifts its focus to playing Group E opponent Germany, world No 24 Finland (August 27) and No 3 Australia (August 29), Togashi hopes players who aren't on Japan's World Cup roster and fans will inspire the national team.

"I want to fight in Okinawa with the thoughts of various players and the support of the fans," Togashi said, addressing the Ariake Arena crowd after Saturday's game.

Hovasse also highlighted the team's turn-the-page mentality as it gets ready to play Germany in its World Cup opener.

"We have one week to practice and prepare," Hovasse said.

In Okinawa, Slovenia is assigned to Group F and opens its World Cup campaign against Venezuela on August 26, followed by games against Georgia (August 28) and Cape Verde (August 30).

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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 Twitter @ed_odeven


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