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Monday, Jan. 14, 2008

BJ-LEAGUE

Motivated Apache complete sweep


Staff writer

Never underestimate the power of motivation.

It works wonders for athletes' psyche. And it forces them to listen to their coach's challenges and/or mandates.

Such was the case with the Tokyo Apache, who entered the weekend riding a four-game losing streak. That streak is ancient history, and a new one has begun: a two-game winning streak.

Joe Bryant's team completed the weekend sweep on Sunday, cruising to a 96-69 victory over the Toyama Grouses at Ariake Colosseum before a crowd of 2,228.

For the Apache (11-7), the power of motivation played a key role in the team's successful weekend.

Bryant opted to shake up the starting lineup, giving both guard Lee Jungjun and power forward Kazuya Nobuhira a rare chance to start.

"I think it was kind of a wakeup call for the guys on the bench that I started No. 16 (Nobuhira) and really Shoji (Nakanishi), No. 9, was the first guy off the bench," the coach said. "And I think that kind of woke everybody up.

"And one thing that I like about those two guys is they come to practice on time. They never complain. They work hard. And I said this yesterday: If you are going to put a picture up about what professionalism is all about, those two guys are the ones."

Bryant added: "The thing I'm very happy about is the play of our bench."

He should be. The Apache reserves scored 43 points on Saturday, including Nakanishi's 16 and Dameion Baker's 14. Tokyo won the series opener 87-78.

On Sunday, Tokyo's strong bench play proved to be a key factor in the win, too. Bryant's backups combined for 53 points. Masashi Joho and Baker both had 13-point games and Jun Iwase and Nakanishi contributed 10 apiece.

"If we continue to be very dangerous coming off the bench, we have a good shot at playing well this year," Bryant declared.

Tokyo, now 7-3 at home, led 46-31 at halftime, using a 12-1 run before the break to close the gap to double digits for good. The Apache led by as many as 29 points in the final quarter.

John "Helicopter" Humphrey, who led the bj-league in scoring in the previous two seasons, finished with a game-high 19 points and a team-high six assists in 23 minutes. In the fourth quarter, he rested.

Apache center Nick Davis, who picked up two first-quarter fouls, also spent major minutes on the bench. He had a productive 19-minute performance: eight points, eight rebounds and two blocked shots.

Osaka routs Oita

The Osaka Evessa's strong first quarter carried them to an 84-67 victory over the host Oita HeatDevils on Sunday in Kyushu.

The Evessa outscored Oita 26- 4 in the first 10 minutes and never looked back.

Kensaku Tennichi's club earned the sweep, improving to a league-best 15-3 and pulling away from the idle Takamatsu Five Arrows (11-7) in the race for the Western Conference crown.

Elsewhere, the visiting Niigata Albirex BB earned a weekend split against the Saitama Broncos, posting a 69-56 triumph.

Niigata (11-9) secured the victory by outscoring Saitama 30-10 in the final period.



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