NAU State Championship: A Major

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Roger Tanaka (11) of Tigers White dribbles around David Miura (13) while Eric Yasuda (20) looks on in the A Major NAU Championship game. (JUN NAGATA/Rafu Shimpo)

The Nisei Athletic Union North vs. South State Championships took place on Sunday at Carson High School and provided those in attendance with three exciting games of hoops. In last year’s tournament, the Southern teams went up to San Francisco and only managed to squeeze out one victory. Home court certainly has its advantages as all three southern teams won out this year. This year, the North did not field a Double-A team, so Sunday also featured the Southern Section Double-A Championships.

By JORDAN IKEDA

Rafu Sports Editor

The NAU A Major state championship game had almost everything. A three-point fireworks display in the opening minutes. A midcourt buzzer beater to end the first half. A technical that led to a foul-out. It even had a 7-point play.

What it lacked, however, was any real drama.

The game started out well enough for the Sacramento Samurai who hit five threes (would have been six but for a big toe over the line on one of the shots) to take an early 19-13 lead against the Tigers White.

Of course, as the saying goes, teams that live by the three, die by them as well. From that point forward, the Tigers continued to score, while the makes from beyond the arc dried up for the Samurai who ended the game shooting 11-37 from downtown.

“We just weren’t hitting our shots today,” said Marc Kato who went 0-5 from the field and missed his one freethrow attempt, but who did contrib­ute 7 boards and 4 assists. “Overall it was a good tournament.”

The Tigers went on a 25-8 run to  close out the first half capped off by a running half-court bank shot from Roger Tanaka that effectively can­celed out a triple by the Samurai’s David Miura only seconds before. The basket turned what would have been an 8-point Tigers lead into an 11-point advantage heading into the break.

The Sacramento Samurai never recovered.

“Just effort more than anything,” said Tanaka when asked about his team’s mentality coming into the contest. “The whole year has been like that. If we play hard, we have a chance. We’re not the youngest team out there. We have to play together, play hard and rely on playing good defense.”

The Tigers’ defense stifled the Samurai holding them to only 16 points in the second half and 28 percent shoot­ing overall.

“It was a good team effort,” said Nick Ito who stuffed the stat sheet with 16 points, 11 boards, 2 assists, 3 steals and a block in 32 minutes. “Everyone tried their hardest and it worked out.”

The most dramatic point of the game came late in the second, when Conlon Kwong, who paced the Samu­rai with 16 points, 4 boards, 3 steals and 2 blocks, was ejected after arguing his fourth foul and receiving a technical that due to NAU rules, counts as a personal.

That led to Paul Matsubara hitting four free throws (two for his shooting foul and two for the tech), the Tigers getting possession of the ball and then the rock promptly being swung back around to Matsubara for a three point­er—an extremely rare 7-point play.

“I don’t know what to tell you,” said Matsubara who scored 16 points and pulled down 5 boards. “It was just luck there.”

In all honesty, Kwong was hosed on a couple of other fouls early in the game, especially a blocking foul where he took the full force of the opponent square in the chest with his feet set. It noticeably affected his aggressiveness and the team started its slide shortly thereafter. To his credit, Kwong never hung his head.

Despite the insurmount­able odds and his somewhat lame ejection late in the game, Kwong never left the sidelines cheering on his teammates.

“Just team ball,” he explained about his energy and will to keep encourag­ing his teammates. “Just trying to get a good game in, even if it’s a loss. We’re definitely looking forward to next year…We’ll be back.”

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For box scores, click here.

For photo journal, click here.

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