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Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2009

BJ-LEAGUE

White comes through in crunch time to help Phoenix top Apache


Staff writer

Wendell White showcased his shooter's touch in crunch time on Tuesday.

News photo
Up and in: Apache guard Cohey Aoki (left) attempts a shot as Higashimikawa Phoenix player Wendell White defends during the second quarter of their game on Tuesday at Yoyogi Gymnasium Annex. YOSHIAKI MIURA PHOTO

White drained three 3-pointers in the final quarter to spark the Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix to an 81-73 victory over the Tokyo Apache at Yoyogi National Gymnasium No. 2.

"My teammate Limar (Wilson) told me to basically takeover," White said during a courtside interview, "and that's what I did."

As many players will tell you, after making a first shot, it's easier to make another one.

Or as White put it: "My confidence got real high after I made the first one."

White, who played in the Korean Basketball League last season, finished with a game-high 32 points and three teammates scored in double figures. For Tokyo, big man Julius Ashby had 23 points, Cohey Aoki added 17 and Nick Davis finished with 20 rebounds. In an offseason of turmoil — Tokyo established a new ownership group just weeks before the season, for example, and didn't announce its foreign player signings until 11 p.m. last Friday — new coach Motofumi Aoki acknowledged there have been numerous issues the team has had to cope within order to prepare for this season.

"We did our best," he said, "but we were saddled with a loss. I take the responsibility. There were so many things during the offseason and it was hard for us to get prepared. I told the players we should be pleased to enter the season, given the environment and be able to play the game . . ."

Tuesday's game was the teams' first meeting since the Eastern Conference final in May, when the Apache beat the Phoenix and advanced to the title game for the second straight season under then-coach Joe Bryant. Motofumi Aoki was the Takamatsu Five Arrows' floor boss over the previous three seasons.

During the game's decisive spurt in the fourth, White drained a pair of 3s, made a steal and converted a layup for a one-man, 8-0 run that gave his team a 67-62 lead with 4:58 remaining.

Tokyo appeared fatigued in the closing minutes of the game. Hamamatsu, on the other hand, turned to White to provide a late spark. He swished another 3-pointer to increase the lead to 72-64.

With 1:40 left, William Knight iced the win for the Phoenix, sinking two free throws. That made it 78-67.

After the loss, Apache guard Cohey Aoki summed up his team's grueling preseason training by saying, "We feel the pleasure to be able to reach today. We didn't play our best ballgame but there is a long season to go and we will keep fighting."

Aoki's layup gave Tokyo its biggest lead,46-35, early in the third quarter. Moments later, Hamamatsu answered with a 7-0 run to cut it to 49-44.

With the clock winding down in the third, Wilson's driving jumper made it 51-48, and then a Julius Ashby jam ignited the crowd and stretched Tokyo's lead back to five.

The Phoenix tied it twice in the final 1:07 of the quarter, but Apache's power jam and Shoji Nakanishi's layup before the buzzer put Tokyo in the driver's seat, leading 57-55 entering the final quarter.

Through three quarters, Hamamatsu had made 23 of 60 shots from the field and had nine steals to Tokyo's three.

Both clubs missed a number of high-percentage shots in the first half, but made their share of difficult ones, too. For instance, Ashby used his brute strength to maneuver his way inside for a hard-earned layup and nailed the subsequent free throw with 7:26 to play in the first half, giving Tokyo a 28-25 lead.

A White jam brought the Phoenix within 34-31. The Apache closed out the half on an 8-2 spurt, including an Ashby shot in the paint and Nakanishi, who drained a 3-pointer, pumped his fist and smiled as he turned to head up court for the final few seconds of the opening half.

Tokyo led 42-33 at the half, but made only 6 of 14 free throws in that time, including a rare 1-for-4 performance by Aoki.



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