MARINE CORPS AIR STATION FUTENMA, Okinawa – They’d entered the 22nd anniversary Martin Luther King Invitational Basketball Tournament this weekend hoping they’d get a chance to play somebody besides Kubasaki.
Just their luck, the Kadena Panthers began pool play Friday with yet another game against the Dragons, leading to another tight outcome and a third win for Kadena over its island rival this season.
“The girls came through; they were focused,” coach Willie Ware said after his Panthers rallied from a 22-15 deficit early in the second half to outscore Kubasaki 15-6 the rest of the way for a 30-29 win at Futenma’s Semper Fit Gym.
It was the fourth close game the teams have played this season. Kadena opened by scoring the last 10 points of a 46-39 win on Dec. 6, Kubasaki got its first win over the Panthers in 10 seasons 48-42 on Dec. 20, then on Jan. 10, the Panthers outlasted Kubasaki 40-37.
Though the season ledger appeara lopsided in Kadena’s favor, “we aren’t going to run over Kubasaki; this isn’t going to be a run-over season series,” Ware said. “We’re going to push each other. Hopefully, we can go to Far East and bring it (title) to Okinawa. It’s going to be some tough battles.”
Already missing several regulars with injury and illness, Kubasaki lost senior center Alyah Johnson to a left-leg injury late in the game.
“They’re the yardstick,” Dragons coach Bob Driggs said of Kadena. “We just couldn’t make some shots inside, Kadena hit a three late, we missed a few free throws. We just have to get it together.”
Kadena’s boys opened pool play by matching the girls in the win column, downing Atsui, a men’s open team, 44-40, pleasing coach Gerald Johnson. “We played well. We got a good effort from several guys,” he said.
Kubasaki’s boys also prevailed, winning a defensive struggle with U.S. Naval Hospital Okinawa 30-25, then holding off 353rd Special Operations Maintenance Squadron 47-40.
Dragons coach Jon Fick said Kubasaki could have scored more against USNH were it not for foul shooting; Kubasaki went 8-for-23 from the line. “We need to make free throws if we’re going to win,” Fick said.
Asked if he sees Kubasaki’s and Kadena’s boys and girls playing in the MLK playoffs on Sunday, Johnson said: “We got a chance. Every game, you go hard, try to get the fundamentals and see what happens.”
The five-day tournament features 13 men’s and four women’s teams, including the high schools. Pool play concludes Saturday and the playoffs start Sunday and ends with Monday’s finals at 2 p.m.
On Korea’s hardwood, Seoul American’s boys remained unbeaten at 9-0, but it wasn’t easy as the Falcons outlasted Yongsan International-Seoul 47-40 on the Guardians’ home court.
“Worst game of the season,” Falcons coach Steve Boyd said. “But you need a few of those. Any time you shoot 27 percent, you’re not doing well. We’re a far better shooting team than that.”
Further south at Osan Air Base, the Humphreys boys got the second win in the program’s young history, 76-68. The Blackhawks are comprised mostly of players who came over from Osan when Humphreys opened, so it had the look of an Osan vs. Osan game.
Though Humphreys’ girls fell by five points at Osan, Blackhawks coach Ashley Gooch was pleased with her players’ effort. “Best my team has played this season,” she said. The Blackhawks held Cougars scoring star Andrea Carandang to nine points.
In Japan, Yokota fell behind reigning Far East Division I champion American School In Japan 14-7, then the Panthers clamped down on the Mustangs’ perimeter shooters, holding ASIJ to 16 second-half points in a 55-41 win for the Panthers.
“It took until the second half to see some results” on defense, Yokota coach Paul Ettl said. “And we learned to be patient on offense.”