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[JAPAN SPORTS NOTEBOOK] Utsunomiya Brex are Thriving with Team-First Play

During a 21-game win streak, which began on January 21, the Utsunomiya Brex solidified their team chemistry to make a run at the B.League title this season.



Utsunomiya Brex
Utsunomiya Brex guard Hironori Watanabe runs the offense against the visiting Gunma Crane Thunders on April 10, 2024. (B.LEAGUE)

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For the title-chasing Utsunomiya Brex, a 21-game winning streak from January 21 to April 10 shined a vivid spotlight on the B.League team's talent and depth.

In the team's 21st straight win on Wednesday, April 10, an 89-77 victory over the visiting Gunma Crane Thunders, five Brex players reached double figures in points. Veteran guard Hironori Watanabe, who sank 5 of 8 3-point shots, was the high scorer with a season-best 19 points.

The Brex's epic winning streak ended on Saturday, April 13 with a 79-71 road defeat to the Levanga Hokkaido (16-36) at Hokkaido Prefectural Sports Center.

Utsunomiya (44-8) won more than one-third of its games in a row during the 60-game season. This remarkable achievement started a day after the Brex lost 68-66 to the reigning champion Ryukyu Golden Kings on January 20 at Okinawa Arena. They avenged that loss with a 74-68 bounce-back triumph.

Nearly three full months later, Brex coach Norio Sassa's team came close to matching the B.League first-division record for consecutive wins (24), set by the Chiba Jets in the 2022-23 season.

After the Brex's loss in their series opener against the Levanga in Sapporo, Sassa expressed disappointment in the final outcome.

But Sassa told reporters that the winning streak is "something that the players have worked hard to achieve up to this point. I personally have a lot to reflect on from this match, and I want to fight as a unified team."

On Saturday, Hokkaido outscored Utsunomiya 45-33 in the first and fourth quarters.

The Brex were set to close out the weekend series against the Levanga on Sunday at the same venue.

Utsunomiya Brex
Utsunomiya Brex guard Seiji Ikaruga shoots a 3-pointer on April 10 during the B.League team's 21st straight win. (B.LEAGUE)

Balanced Offense Carries the Utsunomiya Brex

Looking back at the Brex's 21-game unbeaten run, one impressive detail illustrated the team's diversified offensive attack. Six different players led the team in scoring at least once during the win streak.

Veteran American guard DJ Newbill was the top scorer on nine occasions, followed by Isaac Fotu (four times), Grant Jerrett three times, Makoto Heijima and Hirohide Araya (twice) and Watanabe (once).

Interestingly enough, no player led the club in scoring for more than three straight games during the streak. In fact, only Newbill was the top scorer in three straight games in the 21-game streak. He did it with team-high 28-, 19- and 23-point performances against the Nagasaki Velca on February 10 and 11 and the Sunrockers Shibuya on March 2 when the season resumed after a break in February for the FIBA Asia Cup qualifiers.

As the top scorers throughout the Brex's win streak demonstrated, the team doesn't rely on one or two players to carry the scoring load.

This, in turn, makes them more difficult to defend.

Utsunomiya Brex
Utsunomiya forward Isaac Fotu competes against the Akita Northern Happinets on April 7 at Brex Arena Utsunomiya. (B.LEAGUE)

Rebounding Load Shared by Everybody

With 52 of 60 games in the books, Utsunomiya's overall balance ― defined by a commitment to teamwork ― is seen in the statistics. The numbers tell a story. Consider the Brex's rebounding, a task effectively shared by several players. Jerrett is the team leader with 6.7 rebounds per game, followed by Fotu (6.2), Gavin Edwards (5.3), Newbill (5.0) and Kosuke Takeuchi (4.3).

Furthermore, the scoring load is also handled as an across-the-board assignment.

Newbill is the leading scorer (16.9 points per game). Hiejima (12.7), Fotu (12.2) and Jerrett (10.5) also have double-digit scoring averages. Yusuke Endo is averaging 8.1 points, followed by Edwards' 7.8.

Utsunomiya Brex
Brex guard DJ Newbill dribbles as Northern Happinets big man Javier Carter defends on April 7. (B.LEAGUE)

The Top Teams in the B.League

The Brex are one of five B.League teams with 35 or more wins through games of April 13, with the Alvark Tokyo and San-en NeoPhoenix tied for the second-best record (42-10). Ryukyu is 38-14 and the Nagoya Diamond Dolphins, winners of seven straight, are 35-17.

Continue reading the full story , which includes news items on baseball, sumo and more, on SportsLook.


Author: Ed Odeven

Find Ed on JAPAN Forward's dedicated website, SportsLook. Follow his [Japan Sports Notebook] on Sundays, [Odds and Evens] during the week, and X (formerly Twitter) @ed_odeven