TOKYO (FIBA Women's Asia Cup 2017) - Japan dropped the ball in trying to beat Australia in Rio 2016, but are raring to face the Opals again at the FIBA Women's Asia Cup 2017.
The Japanese ladies still remember their Australia game quite vividly. They played brilliantly for three quarters, even leading by 12 heading into the fourth period, but Australia unleashed a wicked windup in the final 10 minutes, outscoring Japan, 33-15. The Japanese ladies were shellshocked and could not recover, eventually losing, 92-86. That loss sank Japan to fourth place in their group, and they eventually faced powerhouse United States in the knockout stage. Had they beaten the Opals, the Japanese would have had a more manageable time trying to break into the tournament's top 4.
New coach Tom Hovasse is aware of how stinging that defeat was, and he is determined to steer Japan towards a happier ending at the Women's Asia Cup this year. Hovasse is fresh from having his squad go through a gamut of preparation games abroad, and they cannot wait to plunge into action in Bengaluru, India and collide with Australia anew.
Hovasse believes his team are up to the challenge of not just getting payback but also winning the Women's Asia Cup title for the third straight edition. This much he recently shared with FIBA.com.
How do you feel about Japan's preparations so far for FIBA Women's Asia Cup?
I am very happy with our preparation. We spent 2 weeks in the US playing against 3 WNBA teams, 3 weeks in Europe playing against very high level opponents and have played the NCAA champions, South Carolina University, in a 3-game friendly series. The last leg of our preparation has us playing 2 games versus Holland this week.
How do you feel about the group Japan have drawn in the FIBA Women's Asia Cup 2017 — Korea, Philippines and Australia?
We have definitely been placed in a tough group with Australia, the reigning Oceania Champions, Korea and the Philippines. We have our work cut out, but our goal is still the same - to be the champions of Asia for a 3rd time in a row. We are excited by the challenge ahead of us!
What makes your coaching style different from previous coach Tomohide Utsumi?
I have a ton of respect for Utsumi-san and stay away from any comparisons. He has raised the bar for women's basketball in Japan, and I have to not only continue but try to improve upon that tradition.
What did the team learn in their recent trip to play games in the USA?
The trip to the USA was late in April/early May. We were just getting our feet wet with my new system. We had a bad game versus Dallas but played well against San Antonio and Seattle. The success we had really gave the players a boost in confidence in their individual play as well as what we are trying to accomplish as a team.
How do you like your chances of bagging the championship again, especially with powerhouse Australia now in the tournament?
The road to the championship has definitely gotten more difficult with the additions of Australia and New Zealand, but I like where we are as a team right now. After the painful loss to Australia last year in Rio, our players are looking forward to facing them again. It was a tough loss, but we did a lot of things right against them and put ourselves in a position to win that game. Thirty-five minutes of good basketball isn't enough to win at this level, so we have to play great for 40 minutes!