Yuta Watanabe, Japan a step away from making 2024 Paris Olympics

Aug 31, 2023, 9:11 AM | Updated: 9:31 am

Yuta Watanabe, Phoenix Suns forward for Japan after beating Venezuela in the FIBA World Cup...

Yuta Watanabe #12 and Yudai Baba #18 of Japan applaud the fans after the FIBA Basketball World Cup Classification 17-32 Group O game between Japan and Venezuela at Okinawa Arena on August 31, 2023 in Okinawa, Japan. (Photo by Takashi Aoyama/Getty Images)

(Photo by Takashi Aoyama/Getty Images)

Japan is one win away from getting back to the Olympics.

Makoto Hiejima scored 23 points, Phoenix Suns forward Yuta Watanabe added 21 and Japan roared back from a 15-point third-quarter deficit to beat Venezuela 86-77 on Thursday in a classification round game at the FIBA Basketball World Cup in Okinawa, Japan.

While Japan was knocked out of contention to win the current FIBA event with a loss Tuesday against Australia, the two remaining games on its schedule carry importance to reach the 2024 Olympics in Paris.

Watanabe had help in the first of those behind a well-rounded effort from Japan, which is 2-2 in FIBA play.

Yuki Kawamura scored 19, which would clinch a berth in the Paris Olympics with a win over Cape Verde on Saturday.

A win Saturday would give Japan its second consecutive Olympic berth. The team played in the Tokyo Games two summers ago as the host nation, but fans could not attend because of restrictions related to the pandemic.

On Thursday against Venezuela, Watanabe went 3-for-8 from beyond the arc but was perfect on five shots in the paint.

He shot 8-for-14 overall and added eight rebounds.

Garly Sojo led Venezuela (0-4) with 20 points, and Nestor Colmenares added 17.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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Yuta Watanabe, Japan a step away from making 2024 Paris Olympics