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Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2009

BJ-LEAGUE

Albirex's efficient attack too much for Apache


Staff writer

The Tokyo Apache are struggling to find a collective identity and successfully combine all the elements of new coach Motofumi Aoki's game plan.

News photo
Going in strong: Niigata's Tyrone Levett attempts a shot while Tokyo's Julius Ashby defends during their game on Tuesday at Yoyogi National Gymnasium No. 2. YOSHIAKI MIURA PHOTO

At the same time, they are still searching for their first win.

The Niigata Albirex BB played a strong game at both ends of the floor in a 97-77 victory over the Apache on Tuesday at Yoyogi National Gymnasium No. 2.

In reality, Niigata's performance was better than the final score indicated. The Apache, meanwhile, were forced to walk off the court in disappointment and look to regroup after falling to 0-3.

The Albirex's foreign players set the tone for coach Masaya Hirose's squad. Tyrone Levett had a team-best 21 points, including 4-for-5 from 3-point range. Center Paul Butorac added 18 points, eight rebounds and six assists, Antonio Burks chipped in with 17 points, eight boards and eight assists and Calvin Chitwood had 11 points and two dunks. Forward Yuichi Ikeda, who had 10 points, was the fifth member of Niigata's double-digit scoring club.

"Yeah, I'm happy," Levett said, summing up the mood of his entire team moments after the game ended. "We came out to play and got off to a good start. . . . The most important thing is we got a win."

He added: "We played with confidence."

The Albirex earned a victory in their first game of the 2009-10 season, doing so with an emphatic finish — a 13-4 run.

"We don't have superstars," Levett said with a smile after his Niigata debut. "Everyone helps each other and we feed off of each other."

Center Julius Ashby, one of the bj-league's strongest players, led the Apache with 19 points on 9-for-15 shooting. He pulled down 12 rebounds and blocked four shots. Takanori Goya scored 15 points, while Cohey Aoki scored 14 points and Reina Itakura had 11. Nick Davis, the veteran anchor, had six points, seven assists, 11 rebounds and two blocks.

Hirose expressed satisfaction about his team's effort on Tuesday, saying his team played with a lot of heart and had good game control throughout the contest.

Holding Ashby to less than 20 points was a key. Hirose called him "a super athlete," and that's one reason Ashby was often double-teamed and had to exert a ton of energy to produce a double-double.

In addition, the Albirex took care of the basketball, committing only nine turnovers compared to Tokyo's 21.

Tokyo's defensive recognition and rotation, particularly on the perimeter, was below average, leading to many non-contested shots for the out-of-towners.

Burks made an old-fashioned 3-point play with 6.5 seconds left in the third, giving his team a 78-58 lead. Tokyo allowed 22 points in the first quarter and gave up 26 in the second and 30 in the third to create a 20-point deficit for itself entering the final stanza.

Ashby rejected a Butorac shot to usher in the fourth quarter, but Chitwood pushed the Albirex lead to 80-58 on a strong slam dunk at the other end.

The Apache pulled within 84-70 on Aoki's spot-up 3 from the left corner with 6:17 to play, but didn't have enough dominance at either end of the floor to stage a super comeback.

With point guard Rasheed Sparks, a former Takamatsu Five Arrows star, still waiting for his visa paperwork to clear and Aoki out with an apparent injury in the first quarter, it appeared the Apache faced a personnel shortage in the backcourt during the series opener against the Albirex.

A team spokesman said Sparks' visa issue may take another week or two to be finalized, meaning he could miss another handful of games.

Aoki, who was helped off the court with 7:48 to play in the first, returned to the court for the second quarter with his team trailing 22-20. The All-Star guard drained two free throws and spotted up for a nothing-but-net 3-pointer to tie the score at 26-26 with just under 8 minutes until halftime.

Niigata led 48-38 at halftime, with 15 of those points coming from Levett.

Notes: A team spokesman said the Apache's next scheduled home games in late November are in jeopardy of being played on the road. Which means the team may have more than 10 straight road contests, a daunting task for a team with an 0-3 record entering Wednesday's contest.



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