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A revenge win

“As the size gets smaller and the number dwindles, the fight grows bigger as the heart expands even more.”  So said the tweet of Gilas Pilipinas national head coach Chot Reyes in their campaign for the new 2017 FIBA Asia Cup.  

16 of the best teams from Asia and Oceania descended on Beirut, Lebanon for basketball supremacy in the region.  Divided into four groups, the Philippines are bracketed along with defending champion China, unpredictable Iraq and Qatar.

In their first assignment, Gilas took on China and it was a track meet with both teams running and chasing each other, many times getting rough and physical.

The encounter was a rematch of the 2015 FIBA Asia championship game held at Changsa, Hunan, where the host country prevailed by 11 points.  This time, with Terence Romeo dropping threes and Jayson Castro slicing the defense, the Philippines surprisingly prevailed, 96-87.

Both teams are missing the services of key players but China, as always had the size advantage with an average height of 6-7 as to the Philippines’ 6-3.  Both are significantly weaker on the inside without Andray Blatche and Junemar Fajardo and the Chinese twin towers of Yi Jianlian and Zhou Qi.  But this was never a problem for Gilas as they controlled the first half.  Calvin Abueva was ejected early in the first quarter for a disqualifying headbutt after he and a Chinese player scuffled for a loose ball on the floor.

With their skilled and quick 6-4 point guard Gou Ailun, China recovered in the second half and managed to erase a 17-point deficit and led by 5 points about 4 minutes before final buzzer.  Then their star guard fouled out.  Defensive stops by Japeth Aguilar (5 blocks), controlled rebounds by Christian Standhardinger and Matthew Wright and the snipings of Romeo and Castro sealed the victory.

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Standhardinger, standing in for Blatche, has awkward basketball moves but was effective with 15 points and 6 rebounds.  Likewise, Wright came up with 12 points.  Raymond Almazan had 9 points including a monster slam.  Romeo top scored for Gilas with 26 points.  Castro had 13 points and 7 assists. 

The team never had the luxury of practicing with a complete lineup as schedules from their PBA mother teams get in conflict.  Cohesion and fluidity will be one major issue in this tournament but gauging from this game, Gilas is in rhythm.  Chot Reyes and his wards found ways and means to bore a big hole to slide thru China’s Great Wall.  This evening, they will be facing Iraq and then Qatar on Sunday.

The 2015 FIBA Asia Championships was the last as the format had been changed with the inclusion of Australia and New Zealand.  It is now called the FIBA Asia Cup and yes, size wise, Gilas certainly has gotten smaller and with injuries to key players, this is going to be a big, big fight that not only will involve bigger puso but as well as maximum lung capacity. 

Gabe Norwood had a quiet 3 points but he was a defensive presence.  Roger Pogoy had a solid contribution of 9 points. The smoke cleared.  Since we cannot possibly confront the Chinese might on our island territories at the West Philippine Sea, at least we get to sleep with the happy thought of for just once, we had bullied China in basketball. 

Then again, as Norwood said, our present situation has all the ingredients for us to come up with major surprise and last Wednesday’s game was it.  Go Gilas!

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