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Monday, Oct. 27, 2008

BJ-LEAGUE

Live-wire Kitamuki provides spark as Broncos score win over Albirex


Staff writer

TOKOROZAWA, Saitama Pref. — While opening the season with four wins in as many games, the Saitama Broncos have discovered a new sparkplug.

His name is Yuki Kitamuki.

The reserve guard has provided an offensive jolt when he enters the game, including a 25-point effort in Saitama's 86-76 victory over the Niigata Albirex BB on Sunday at Tokorozawa Municipal Gymnasium.

Kitamuki, who turned 23 in April, scored 15 fourth-quarter points on 5-for-8 shooting and a perfect 4-for-4 at the free-throw line. This occurred a day after his breakthrough game in the bj-league, a 27-point performance that included a 7-for-10 effort from 3-point range, including 5-for-6 in the fourth quarter.

Broncos coach David Benoit considers Kitamuki's success a byproduct of the way he prepared for the 2008-09 bj-league season.

"We never plan our team strategy for the (scoring) to be just one player, because this is a team sport and there are five guys out there," Benoit said.

"I would say it's a credit to Yuki because he's just been working really hard this summer. It's just paying off for him right now, and that's how we encourage all our players (to act) — keep working hard."

Saitama power forward Reggie Warren finished one assist shy of a triple-double (12 points, 16 rebounds, nine assists), Steve Horne scored 17 and Kazuhiro Shoji chipped in with nine.

The Albirex trailed 80-71 in the final minute, but then Niigata's Yuichi Ikeda nailed a quick 3-pointer to make it a two-possession game before Kitamuki drained two free throws to push the lead back to 82-74 with 21.8 seconds to play. Three possessions later, Taishiro Shimizu made a steal and converted a layup to give the Broncos a 10-point advantage and account for the game's final score.

Reflecting on the season to date, Benoit commended the impact Warren gave Saitama on and off the court.

"He's really come in and been a real professional," Benoit said of the ex-Takamatsu Five Arrows player.

"He's really a true team player," the coach added. "He really wants to win, so there are situations where teams will definitely have to key on him but he's so unselfish that he passes the ball.

"The only thing he cares about is if we can score on every possession."

Warren's mind-set helped the Broncos take a 25-23 lead into the second quarter and a 40-36 advantage at halftime.

Niigata, on the other hand, never had an answer for Saitama's hot outside shooters. The Broncos made 10 of 16 3s on the afternoon a day after hitting 13 of 26.

Ikeda led the Albirex (1-3) with 20 points, pivotman Dokun Akingbade had 18 points and Naoto Kosuge, displaying a more aggressive attack-the-basket approach than in previous seasons, contributed 17.

Albirex coach Masaya Hirose said his team lost the physical battles inside and admitted it will take time to get all his new players acclimated to Niigata's style of play. That said, he said he is enjoying the challenge of leading this new-look squad.

Also Sunday, the visiting Ryukyu Golden Kings improved to 4-0 with a 93-88 victory over the Osaka Evessa. Center Jeff Newton had his second terrific game against his ex-club, scoring a game-high 31 points.

A productive backcourt was another key for first-year coach Dai Oketani's team. Naoto Takushi dished out 11 assists for Ryukyu and Shigeyuki Kinjo added 17 points.

Lynn Washington had a team-high 31 points for the Evessa (2-2).

The Takamatsu Five Arrows also raised their record to 4-0, posting a 90-75 home triumph over the Shiga Lakestars.

Big man George Leach was Takamatsu's top scorer with 27, Gordon James poured in 23 and Yu Okada made six assists.

Elsewhere, the Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix completed a series sweep of the Tokyo Apache, cruising to a 106-87 win.

The Phoenix (3-1) scored 37 third-quarter points and had six double-digit scorers on the day, including Josh Peppers (28 points, 14 rebounds). Chinese center Sun Ming Ming had 13 points and seven boards.

The Toyama Grouses, meanwhile, recorded their first victory of the season, topping the host Sendai 89ers 79-73 in overtime.

Grouses forward Rodney Webb, who forced overtime by sinking a pair of free throws with 6 seconds left in the fourth quarter, finished with a game-best 26 points. That tied it at 67-67.

In overtime, Webb shattered a 73-73 tie on a free throw at the 1:07 mark. Then Masayuki Kabaya (11 points) nailed a 2-pointer to extend the lead.



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