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Monday, April 21, 2008

BJ-LEAGUE

Apache down Albirex to reach final weekend


Staff writer

The Tokyo Apache advanced to the bj-league's final four playoff weekend with a hard fought 103-88 victory over the Niigata Albirex in a wild-card game on Sunday afternoon.

News photo
Cagey veteran: Niigata's Makoto Hasegawa (right) tries to drive past Tokyo's Dameion Baker during their bj-league wild-card game at Tokyo's Yoyogi National Gynasium Annex on Sunday. KAZ NAGATSUKA PHOTO

Playing before a raucous crowd of 2,511 at Tokyo's Yoyogi Gymnasium, the Apache broke open a tight contest by employing a full-court press to open the second half. The move paid off by forcing several Niigata turnovers and Tokyo never looked back.

The victory puts the Apache into the final four for the second time in the league's three-year history. Tokyo will be joined at Ariake Colosseum on the weekend of May 3-4 by Sendai, Osaka and the expansion Rizing Fukuoka, who defeated the Takamatsu Five Arrows in the other wild-card contest on Sunday.

Dameion Baker led the Apache with 24 points and 9 nine rebounds. John Humphrey added 18 points, and sixth man Cohey Aoki tallied 17 in the win.

Always solid forward Nick Davis, who played for the Albirex for several years before joining the Apache in the offseason, had 14 points and 10 boards.

"It was a great game today," said Tokyo coach Joe Bryant. "The team played with so much passion and enthusiasm."

Bryant said his club's scouting report on Niigata worked to near perfection.

"They like to pass the ball into the post and kick it back out for 3-pointers," he said. "But we took that away from them. When their guards penetrate, they are usually looking to pass, not shoot."

The Albirex were paced by Andre Smith's 24 points and 20 from Rodney Webb.

Andrew Preston had 16 points and 5 blocks in 15 minutes off the bench for Niigata.

Smith fouled out with 7:06 left in the fourth and was assessed with his second technical foul of the game before he left the floor.

The Apache led 73-53 after an action-packed third quarter that saw them outscore Niigata 28-12.

Davis scored on a putback with 4:45 remaining in the third put the Apache up 63-45.

A Dean Browne steal and layup made it 69-48 with 2:45 left in the quarter to give Tokyo its biggest lead to that point.

What had been a very physical game boiled over with 6:42 left in the third when Smith and Davis got tangled up and nearly came to blows. They stood nose-to-nose for several seconds barking at each other before they were separated and each assessed technical fouls.

On the ensuing play, Smith goaltended a shot from Baker out of frustration and was then taken out of the game by Albirex coach Masaya Hirose, but not before getting in a few choice words as he went to the bench.

The Apache began the second half with pressing defense and boosted its lead to 53-41 on a dunk by Humphrey with just under 8 minutes left in the third quarter.

Niigata finally got on the board on a reverse layup by Smith with 7:35 left in the quarter.

Aoki beat the buzzer with a 3-pointer in the face of Makoto Hasegawa to send Tokyo into the locker room up 45-41.

Aoki's jumper at 5:11 of the second quarter capped an 8-0 run that gave the Apache a 35-29 advantage.

Niigata responded with an 8-0 run of its own shortly thereafter to reduce the deficit to 40-39.

Smith scored 14 points — on a variety of moves from inside and outside — in the first quarter as the Albirex took a 23-22 lead.

Humphrey had 9 points in the first for Tokyo.

Smith tipped in his own miss to tie the score 12-12 with 3:30 left in the first quarter, after Tokyo had raced out to an early 10-2 lead.

Niigata moved in front for the first time on a long 3-pointer by Matt Garrison with just under 3 minutes left, but Humphrey responded with a flying slam for the Apache.

Browne put forth a spirited effort off the bench for Tokyo, recording 13 points and 7 rebounds. In the fourth quarter Brown went coast-to-coast with a rebound that gave the Apache a 91-68 lead, their largest of the game.

"It really feels good," said the 213-cm pivotman. "I'm happy to be on the team, bring my energy and help this team win."



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