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Saturday, Feb. 17, 2007
Benoit key to Broncos' hopes
By ED ODEVEN
His team has nowhere to go but up.
His re-emergence could be a key factor for the 9-17 Saitama Broncos, who entered this weekend tied for last place in the bj-league standings with the Toyama Grouses, if the team can position itself to make a run for a playoff spot.
Small forward David Benoit had his best game of the season in last Sunday's 68-67 victory over the visiting Niigata Albirex BB, matching his season-high total in points (10) and rebounds (10) in only 17 minutes.
Benoit added an assist, a steal and a healthy dose of veteran moxie, helping his team avoid an embarrassing fourth-quarter collapse (it was outscored 21-7 by Niigata).
This much is certain: whenever Benoit, a backup, gets a double-double, his team is better off.
Benoit, who turns 39 in May, starred for the Utah Jazz during their heyday in the 1990s as a teammate of future Hall of Famers John Stockton and Karl Malone.
Because of an Achilles injury, Benoit started the season slowly and has been plagued by injuries (he's missed seven games).
He returned to the Broncos' rotation last Saturday after missing the team's four previous games. His impact on the boards was significant: 10 rebounds in 18 minutes.
FLASHBACK: In the Broncos' win on Sunday, Kazuhiro Shoji had a team-best 14 points, finishing 4-for-5 from the field, Marcus Toney-El poured in 13 and Taishiro Shimizu added 11.
Gordon James, the team's high-energy power forward, had a season-low four rebounds -- some of them, of course, wound up in Benoit's hands.
Nick Davis' 20 points paced Niigata.
In their series opener, Niigata beat Saitama 97-86 in overtime last Saturday.
The Albirex's Matt Garrison (27 points) and the Broncos' Marcus Toney-El (29) were the high scorers.
The Takamatsu Five Arrows improved to 16-10 by beating the Osaka Evessa 92-67 on Saturday and 84-69 a day later.
The Evessa (17-9) saw their lead in the standings drop to one game as Niigata and the Five Arrows ended the week with identical records.
Osaka fell to 1-3 without reigning league MVP and power forward Lynn Washington (sprained ankle) in the lineup.
In their first encounter, Kazuyuki Nakagawa (22 points), Rasheed Sparks (11 points, nine rebounds and seven assists) and Reggie Warren (13 points, 16 boards, and six dimes) sparked Takamatsu.
Jeff Newton scored 18 to lead Osaka.
On Sunday, Osaka shot 17-for-53 from the field on a day when the Five Arrows' passing game was top notch: five players had two or more assists.
And they shot 23-for-46 to offset the teams' rebounding stalemate.
Warren (20), Ashby (19) and Nakagawa (17) were Takamatsu's top options on offense.
Matt Lottich led the Evessa with 25 points.
The host Oita HeatDevils split a pair of games with the Tokyo Apache.
Tokyo eked out an 82-81 series-opening win as Dameion Baker produced a team-best 18 points.
Mikey Marshall had 20 in the loss.
A day later, Oita rebounded with a 100-80 win, getting a 33-point effort from Andy Ellis and four teammates added double-digit scoring totals.
Baker's 18 led Tokyo.
In Toyama, the visiting Sendai 89ers defeated the Grouses 77-68 on Saturday behind Michael Chappell's 25 points and Ryan Blackwell's 23.
The Grouses returned the favor Sunday, outscoring Sendai 33-16 in the fourth on a day when center Jerod Ward was at the top of his game: 28 points, 17 rebounds, seven assists, two blocks and two steals.
UPCOMING GAMES: Friday's Saitama-Osaka clash kicked off the weekend's competition.
Saturday's schedule is as follows: Takamatsu at Niigata, 3 p.m.; Osaka at Saitama, 3; Sendai at Tokyo, 6; and Toyama at Oita, 7.
On Sunday, Niigata entertains Takamatsu at 1, Tokyo takes on Sendai at 2 and Oita faces Toyama at 2:30.
LEAGUE LEADERS: With 14 regular-season games remaining on each team's schedule, it's a good time to glance at several statistical standouts' numbers.
Ward and Tokyo's John Humphrey are deadlocked in the race to be scoring king (25.3 points per game).
Ellis has crept into the conversation, too, with a 22.4 ppg average.
Niigata's Antoni Wyche and Sparks are the co-leaders in assists (4.9 per game).
James is the new No. 1 in rebounds (14.1 per game), followed by Davis (13.9) and Newton (13.8).
Sparks is the league's top takeaway artist (2.7 steals per game). Niigata's Jack Hartman and Newton are next with 1.9 apiece.
Newton's 2.0 blocked shots per game lead the eight-team circuit, while James (1.8) and Davis (1.5) round out the top three.
Veteran long-range specialists Shoji and Niigata's Makoto Hasegawa are first and second, respectively, in 3-point shooting percentage (46.4 and 41.5).