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Sunday, Dec. 11, 2011

Humphrey, Satterfield power Broncos to win

Staff writer

GYODA, Saitama Pref. — The Saitama Broncos entered the season with two of the bj-league's brightest stars on their roster: ex-NBA point guard Kenny Satterfield, the circuit's reigning assist king, and two-time scoring champion John "Helicopter" Humphrey, a fan favorite around the league during his highlight-reel days as a member of the Tokyo Apache.

The dynamic duo pushed the undermanned Broncos on both ends of the court and made enough — actually, a few dozen — terrific plays to tilt the score in their favor in a 107-91 victory over the Shinshu Brave Warriors on Saturday at Gyoda Green Arena.

Humphrey scored a game-best 52 points, including a jaw-dropping 24-for-24 at the free-throw line, and added 11 rebounds, four steals and two blocks. Satterfield finished with 25 points and was 15-for-16 at the line along with eight assists. Daiki Terashita scored 12 points.

"I know we are having our ups and downs," Humphrey said, citing the team's injuries and adding that the team should be back at full strength soon.

"But I want to thank my teammates for playing real hard tonight."

That sentiment was expressed by others on the Broncos team, too.

"Well, first of all, Shinshu played hard. But I thought we played a little harder tonight," Broncos head coach Natalie Nakase said in her post-game comments on the court. Addressing the crowd, she then praised the team's fans, saying, "We couldn't do it without you."

The game was decided by this: Saitama made 41 of 42 free throws; Shinshu was 9-for-21 at the line.

Said Shinshu power forward Lee Roberts: "They (the Broncos) had a great day. They outscored us by 32 at the free-throw line."

In addition, Saitama outscored the visitors 36-19 in the decisive fourth quarter. It was done primarily with the clock stopped; Saitama was 18-for-18 at the line in the final stanza.

Nakase expected an efficient offense would be a key to victory for her team, she admitted after the game. She called the team's 41-for-42 free-throw effort "pretty impressive."

"I don't think you can get any more efficient than that," she added.

"Even without a big man, Saitama had great energy today," Brave Warriors coach Motofumi Aoki told reporters.

Looking ahead to Sunday's rematch, he said, "Inside play will be key tomorrow." This was, in effect, a way of issuing a challenge to his team to play better and smarter in the series finale.

Roberts paced Shinshu with 40 points and Edward Morris scored 19, Derek Raivio had 16 and Takanori Goya 10.

Humphrey, who had 30 points through three quarters, flushed a pair of 3s sandwiched around two Satterfield free throws to put Saitama ahead 79-72 early in the fourth.

Patient and methodical, the Shinshu offense stayed on cue and cut it to 79-78 and then 81-80 on a Roberts layup.

Yasuaki Arai, who had an 11-point outing, gave Saitama a 92-85 lead on a pair of free throws with 3:03 left in the game. On its next possession, Humphrey drained a 3, one of six he made on the night, shot with a smooth rotation that must've appeared like a dagger to the Brave Warriors, to make it 95-85 and seal the win.

"It feels great to win at home," said Nakase.

The scrappy Brave Warriors took three rapid-fire shots on their final offensive sequence of the third quarter, but missed all three. Still, they led 72-71 entering the final quarter.

Without the services of forwards Jayme Miller and John Flowers (injuries) and center Gabriel Hughes (undisclosed illness), Saitama employed a six-player rotation for most of the game, with veteran guard Darin Satoshi Maki getting limited time on the court (54 seconds of court time). Satterfield never left the court in the first half.

The Broncos raced out to a 10-4 lead to start the game. Their oft-repeated tactic — attack the basket — worked well, and Satterfield scored six of the team's first 10 points. Satterfield and Humphrey pushed the ball and controlled the tempo in the hosts' well-played early stretch.

Shinshu, a first-year franchise based in Nagano Prefecture, answered with an 8-2 spurt to tie it at 12-12 with about 2 minutes to play in the opening stanza. Ex-Apache guard Goya, who played for the two-time championship runnerup squad during Aoki's one year at the helm (2009-10) following bench boss Joe "Jellybean" Bryant's distinguished four-year tenure, canned a baseline jumper to give the Brave Warriors a two-point lead.

But Saitama knotted it at 14-14 on a pair of Humphrey free throws with 11 seconds left in the quarter, a feat that would be repeated all night. Those were the final points of the quarter, and Satterfield and Humphrey, the first two-time scoring champion in league history, had combined for all 14 of the green-clad squad's points.

Coming off consecutive loses to the Shiga Lakestars on the road last weekend, Saitama looked to snap a two-game slide. Early in the second quarter, their energy and steady play put the Broncos in good position to do just that. Humphrey drained back-to-back 3s from the top of the arc to put Saitama ahead 23-20 at the 7:42 mark.

Getting good ball movement, solid screens and purposeful penetrations into the painted area, Saitama, led by former UCLA point guard Nakase, let Satterfield orchestrate the offense, and it worked. An 8-0 run capped by a Yuki Kitamuki 3-pointer gave the Broncos a 34-25 advantage, and Aoki called a timeout with 3:03 left before halftime.

Before the halftime show commenced, Satterfield and Humphrey hooked up for an alley-oop, the New York City playground legend lofting a perfect pass for the high-flying showman to slam home. Shinshu came roaring back, closing within 37-35 on a Morris dunk. Moments later, two of the more imaginative Japanese scorers in the league took turns showcasing their skills, with Terashita pulling up for a jumper and Goya driving baseline and laying it a shot off the glass.

The Broncos led 42-38 at halftime. Humphrey had 22 points, including 10-for-10 at the charity stripe, by the break, and also had three steals and two blocks to fuel the team's offensive attack. Saitama shot a sizzling 13 of 14 at the line in the first half.

Morris had a team-high 13 points in the opening half and Goya and Roberts each had 10 apiece. The Brave Warriors were 5 of 13 at the line before the break.

Saitama made 5 of 8 3s in the second quarter as Nakase's players found their offensive rhythm on the inside and from the perimeter.

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