HIROSHIMA (FIBA World Championship
) - Four players scored in double figures as Japan captured their first victory at the 2006 FIBA World Championship by beating Panama 78-61 in Group B.
The tournament hosts remained in the hunt for a chance in the knock-out stages in Saitama while Panama face a major battle the rest of the way.
In front of the home fans, Kei Igarashi paced the Japanese with 18 points while Takehiko Orimo chipped in with 13. Coach Zeljko Pavlicevic also got excellent bench support as Ryota Sakurai scored 12 and Joji Takeuchi added 11 points.
Ruben Douglas led the Central Americans with 16 points as the only player on Guillermo Vecchio's team to score in double figures.
Panama were able to used their size to open a first quarter lead of 22-14 at the Hiroshima Green Arena.
"We played together well for seven minutes. Unfortunately, that's not enough in this game. You have to play 40 minutes of high concentration basketball," said Panama point guard Ed Cota, who had just six points and two assists.
The turning point came when Ryota Sakurai entered the game from the bench to start the second period. The slashing guard was unstoppable, making three layups and a steal and breakaway dunk as he scored 10 of 13 points for Japan in pulling the team to within 28-27.
Panama still led 36-33 going into the locker room.
The veteran Orimo, one of two Japanese players who played in the country's last FIBA World Championship in 1998, played a key role in the third quarter as he drained three three-pointers - the last giving Japan a 49-38 lead with 3:44 left in the period.
Orimo also was excellent in defense, as he was instrumental in holding Michael Hicks to three points and Ruben Garces to eight.
"I know you're going to laugh, but Orimo was our best defender. Without his defense, it would have been much more difficult," Pavlicevic said of his 36-year-old swingman.
The Japanese turned up the defense over the rest of the way and ended up creating 27 Panama turnovers.
"(Sakurai) really changed the flow of the game. He gave them more confidence and the rest of Japanese were able to pick up their game," said Panama assistant coach Enrico Grenaldo.
Pavlicevic said he was thrilled to have led Japan to the first victory at this tournament.
"We started this with the idea of making the Final 16. We knew it was going to be very difficult, almost a miracle. But we believed in our jobs. And I believe this team is on the right track," the coach said.
After a day off, Japan next play New Zealand while Panama take on Germany By DAVID HEIN
Exclusively for FIBA