PUERTO MONTT (2011 FIBA U19 World Championship for Women) - Japan has achieved their best ever finish at the FIBA U19 World Championship for Women, claiming seventh position in the classification round.
Japan prevailed 71-66 over Russia in a see-sawing contest, thanks to 19 points from Shiori Takada, 17 from Sanae Motokawa and another near triple double from Rui Machida (16 points, 9 rebounds, 6 assists). Russia were led by 21 points and 17 rebounds from Ksenia Tikhonenko.
The result saw the departure of crowd favourite Japan from the tournament. The Asian silver medallists, with an average height of just 172cm, captured the crowd with their daring and relentless style of play.
Led by the fearless Rui Machida, Japan defeated Italy, Argentina and Russia twice, and gave heavyweights Australia and Canada the fight of their lives.
Coach Eiki Umezaki is tremendously proud of his team. "My players have played a very good tournament. They are very strong and I am very happy with them," he said. "Machida and Tadaka (in particular) have a very strong heart."
Umezaki was in good spirits following the win over Russia. "I am very tired, I think I maybe lost 4 or 5 kilograms (from the tournament)!" he laughed before trying to explain why they had performed so well and won the hearts of the fans.
"Maybe it is the Japanese spirit, the fighting spirit."
Machida in particular has been a fan favourite, despite standing just 160cm she has averaged an amazing 7 rebounds per game to go along with 12.3 points and 6.2 assists per game, which is first in the tournament. Chile will always hold a special place in her heart, and she sounded sad to leave.
"Every game was a favourite memory," she said. "But today's was my favourite, the whole team played well together and with a smile on our faces and we enjoyed it together."
And while they were a favourite with the home fans, they also had a large group of their own supporters who banged their drums through all nine games.
This was one of the great memories for Machida and her teammates. "We are a long way from home," she said. "So we did not expect to have such a big support for Japan."
Umezaki holds high hope for Machida. "She has a more than 70cm standing jump," he exclaimed, explaining her outstanding rebounding. "She will play for (professional) company team Fujitsu Redwave, and I hope in the next year or two she will play for the Japanese senior team."
Here's what Russian centre Ksenia Tikhonenko and coach Olga Shuneykina had to say following their last game in the tournament:
Ksenia Tikhonenko (Russia, player):
I think the best memory of this tournament was the quarter final, the team played very well together. This was a very exciting game and with a lot of exciting emotions.
Olga Shuneykina (Russia, coach):
Every game was not easy for us. We were happy when we made it to the best eight teams because at the last European championship we came fifth, and good teams like Italy and China did not make it (to the top eight). It was a very good experience here for every player, every game, every minute.