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Monday, Dec. 29, 2008

BJ-LEAGUE

Winning Apache give Bryant sweet dreams


Staff writer

Losing can cause insomnia.

Just ask Joe Bryant, the Tokyo Apache coach whose thoughts on Saturday's 103-84 defeat to the Toyama Grouses overpowered his desire to sleep.

And now the good news: He'll wake up Monday as a well-rested coach.

The Apache bounced back from their series-opening loss with a heady 77-67 victory over the Grouses at Ariake Colosseum on Sunday.

Bryant shuffled his starting lineup, replacing Darin Satoshi Maki with Cohey Aoki at point guard, Masashi Joho with Jumpei Nakama at shooting guard and Tizzo Johnson with Julius Ashby at power forward.

The moves paid off.

"After yesterday's game, I didn't sleep at all," Bryant admitted moments after his team closed the books on its 13th victory in 20 games.

"I laid down for about 10 minutes and then jumped back up. My wife kept telling me, 'Come on, go to bed. Don't worry about it. Figure it out tomorrow.' I said OK and then jumped up again thinking about today's game, so I didn't get any sleep at all."

A formidable front court of 213-cm center Babacar Camara, power forward Rodney Webb — who punished the Apache with 31 points in the opener — and versatile Terrence Woodyard, as well as the Grouses' speedy point guard, Haruhito Shishito and perimeter marksman Masayuki Kabaya's big 22-point performance — including a nothing-to-yawn-at 4-for-4 stat line from 3-point range on Saturday — were the cited factors.

"The biggest decision in not getting to sleep well was: Do I change the starting lineup? Does the confidence of Joho and Darin change if I don't start them? Do I go back them? So those were the things I was contemplating.

"As a head coach, you just don't think about Xs and Os, you think about the psyche and emotion of the players and how they deal with the (adjustment) of change."

Analyzing how best to utilize his players' strengths, the still-awake Bryant decided his team needed to alter its defense approach in Sunday's rematch and the two-game series next weekend in Toyama. And that's why he opted to give Nakama the chief task of defending Kabaya.

"Jumpei is really one of the best defenders around and he did a great job on No. 3 (Kabaya)," Bryant said after Kabaya was held to three points on 1-for-7 shooting.

Collectively, the Apache did a better job of limiting the Toyama guards' ability to create scoring chances off the dribble.

With the score tied at 9-9 after Kabaya's baseline 3-pointer, Tokyo played inspired, aggressive basketball in the early going, using a 13-0 first-quarter run to pull ahead 22-9.

The Apache never trailed again. Instead, they made enough big plays over the remaining three-plus quarters to pick up the win.

In this game, Tokyo's top-four performers earned themselves a good night's rest, too.

John Humphrey finished with a game-high 21 points for the bj-league's 2007-08 runnerup, while Aoki had 20. Nick Davis set the tone for Tokyo in the paint, attacking the glass with reckless abandon (11 points, 18 rebounds) and Ashby followed suit with an explosive 10-point (three slam dunks), 14-rebound effort).

Entering the fourth quarter, Toyama (7-13) trailed 55-47. Aoki hit two timely 3-pointers midway through the fourth, the second of which gave the Apache a 67-56 advantage. Ashby's jam courtesy of a slick inside dish from Davis raised the advantage to 69-56 with 4:01 to play and prompted Toyama to call a timeout.

Camara led the Grouses with 19 points and 13 boards, Webb added 17 and Woodyard had 15.

Toyama coach Takatoshi Ishibashi said Tokyo played a high-energy game, but was happy with the improved defense his club played in the final three quarters. He added that the Apache had better defensive recognition of Kabaya in the series rematch, contesting his shots effectively.

Elsewhere in the bj-league, Akitomo Takeno and Yuichi Ikeda scored 18 points apiece to lead the Niigata Albirex BB to an 85-73 victory over the visiting Takamatsu Five Arrows.

The Shiga Lakestars also bounced back from a Saturday loss, topping the host Oita HeatDevils 82-68.



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