PHOENIX- The JX Sunflowers, three-time defending champions of the Women’s Japan Basketball League, were no match for the Phoenix Mercury in an exhibition contest Tuesday night at US Airways Center.
Playing without Diana Taurasi, Temeka Johnson and Penny Taylor (on her 30th birthday), the Mercury forced 30 turnovers in the 96-52 win that was 44-15 at halftime.
Yuko Oga scored 10 points in 25 minutes for the Mercury, but she was the most popular player on the floor Tuesday.
Oga, who plays for the Sunflowers during the winter, spent the 2008 season with the Mercury and is attempting to make the roster again. The 5-foot-6 guard played for Japan in the 2004 Athens Olympics and the 2010 World Championships, where she averaged a tournament-high 19.1 points per game.
“I know every player, I play against in practice, so it’s a little bit a different mind set,” Oga said about playing against the Sunflowers. “But now I am in Phoenix, and I want to make the team, so I just play hard. Right now Japan is in a big problem with an earthquake, so I want to give power with my playing to Japan.”
Through the help of an interpreter, Oga implied she is glad to be playing basketball because there are many who can’t back in Japan. She would love to make the team this year to make good vibrations to Japan, and every morning she pays thanks to Japan for allowing her to come here and play in the WNBA.
“It’s kind of tough, but she let them have it,” Mercury coach Corey Gaines said. “ She pushed the ball well, shot the ball well, there’s no love lost with that.”
Alexis Gray-Lawson, who the Mystics drafted in 2010 but waived before the season began, led all scorers with 16 points, nine steals and six assists.
“I’ve been working hard,” Gray-Lawson said. “It’s my job, so I’m going to keep doing my job.”
Coach Gaines said he saw Gray-Lawson play in Turkey this offseason while visiting Taurasi and was tempted to sign the former California Golden Bear.
“I’m really impressed with Gray,” Gaines said. “ I gave her a nickname already, she’s the poor man’s Cappie. She’s aggressive on defense, plays hard, she really shined.”
Kara Braxton (14) and Taylor Lilley (10) also scored in double figures for the Mercury, while Akane Nihara led the Sunflowers with 12. Yaeko Terada and Ramu Tokashiki both scored 10. Tokashiki grabbed seven rebounds, but Candice Dupree had eight, playing 17 less minutes.
The Sunflowers play in Kashiwa, about 50 miles to the east of Tokyo, in the Chiba prefecture of Japan. They are owned by JX Nippon Oil & Energy Corporation and have won 14 WJBL titles since being founded in 1969. Besides Oga, guard Asami Yoshida and center Hiromi Suwa were members of Japan’s National Team that finished 10th at the FIBA World Championships in the Czech Republic last year. Yoshida’s 4.6 assists per game in the Czech Republic were more than anyone’s- almost twice as many as the top American Sue Bird.
Head coach Tomohide Utsumi also coached the 2004 Olympic team.
The Mercury opens the regular season June 4 at Seattle, and the first home game is June 17 versus San Antonio. There is one more preseason game Saturday versus the Sparks in Albuquerque, N.M.