Faced with a must-win game against powerhouse Australia to advance from Group E at the FIBA Basketball World Cup, Japan head coach Tom Hovasse says his team may need its best shooting performance of the tournament to come out on top.
Having struggled from the floor in its warm-up games and opening World Cup loss to Germany, Japan connected on 52 percent of its field goal attempts, including 63 percent inside the arc, in its 98-88 victory over Finland on Sunday.
Bench guards Yuki Kawamura and Keisei Tominaga accounted for eight of Japan's 11 three-point makes, each going 4-from-7 from deep as they spurred the team's dramatic comeback from an 18-point deficit against Utah Jazz star Lauri Markkanen and his Finnish side at Okinawa Arena.
The win was Japan's first at the World Cup in 17 years, breaking a drought dating back to the last time it hosted the tournament in 2006.
Speaking after the win, which kept co-host Japan's tournament hopes alive and eliminated Finland, Hovasse said his players would need to take things up another notch in their final group game Tuesday against a "bigger, stronger" Australian side that shares a 1-1 record with Japan.
"They're one of the best teams in the world (and) we can't allow them to push us around," Hovasse said. "We have to keep it close on the rebounds, and we probably have to shoot better than we did tonight."
With undefeated Germany already through to the 16-team second round, only the winner of Japan and Australia can advance in Okinawa and potentially to the quarterfinals in the Philippines, which is co-hosting the tournament with Japan and Indonesia through Sept. 10.
Hovasse was upbeat about his 36th-ranked team's prospects, provided it sticks to the plan against a world No. 3 Australian side determined to bounce back after going down 85-82 in Sunday's heavyweight battle with Germany.
"If we can settle in and play our game and kind of create the pace that we want, I like our chances," the American tactician said.
"Obviously, we never take them lightly. They're amazing and Coach (Brian) Goorjian has them playing very well. They lost a tough one today, so they're going to be hungry."
While Japan's recent meetings with Australia include a closely fought 99-85 loss at the July 2022 FIBA Asia Cup, in which Tominaga went off for 33 points, the Tokyo Olympic bronze medalist also crushed Akatsuki Japan 98-52 in World Cup qualifying earlier the same month.
Nebraska Cornhuskers sharpshooter Tominaga echoed his coach's comments in the wake of the "huge win" over Finland.
"We've all got to make our shots (and) play like today, or even better," Tominaga said. "We've got to play our basketball for 40 minutes."
Hovasse said the Boomers would try to dominate from the opening tip on Tuesday and Japan would need to match their energy and aggression.
"They're going to come with all they have," Hovasse said. "We have to take the punch and counter, and hopefully we can show them what we got."