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Massive Gilas upset vs China underscores rise of Philippine basketball

Gilas Pilipinas celebrates after winning over China in the 2017 FIBA Asia Cup in Beirut, Lebanon Wednesday night. | FIBA.com

MANILA, Philippines – The mother of all upsets suddenly began to look like the mother of all collapses.

Then Terrence Romeo made sure that the script – the former, that is – was going to stay the same. And the Philippines came away 96-87 winners, holding the defending FIBA Asia Champions scoreless in the last 3:40 of the match.

The deadliest scorer in the Philippines scored 12 fourth quarter points, including eight in the last 3:40. After Yu Dehao scored on a putback to give China an 87-84 lead – their last points of the match – Romeo drilled a 3-pointer to forge the only deadlock of the game at 87-all. After a Jayson Castro turnover, Gilas got a crucial stop and then Romeo went back to work, scoring a shot inside the lane and another triple to give the challengers one more lead they would not surrender.

Christian Standhardinger scored a gimme off a Castro assist and Matthew Wright drove through the heart of the Chinese defense to pad the lead all the way to the finish.

It was sweet revenge for the Filipinos, who lost to China two years ago during the gold medal match in what is considered to be a spottily officiated FIBA Asia final in Changsa two years ago.

Why is this a significant victory?

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What makes the victory even sweeter is they won with an all-Filipino crew (and no naturalized player) and minus two key players in June Mar Fajardo, who is out with a foot injury, and Calvin Abueva, who was ejected at the 2:29 mark of the first period for headbutting China’s Li Gen.

During the match, the Philippines led by as much as 17 points in the first half as the nationals, despite the loss of Abueva. Roger Pogoy hit some huge triples and Raymond Almazan dunked on the flabbergasted Chinese, including one flush on two Chinese players off a pick and roll with Castro that had the crowd at the Nouhad Nawal Sports Complex cheering.

This goes to show the rise in the level of the Filipino basketball player. Now one win, no matter how big, does not mean we are all set. The team has to continue its ways.

Furthermore, it gives the Philippines a lot of confidence heading into the next games. And seeing as to how Iraq defeated Qatar, the Group of Death has been turned upside down.

As Gabe Norwood said prior to the nationals’ departure, “These are ideal conditions to shock the world.”

A case for the Pinoy bigman

With Andray Blatche out (and the same with Fajardo), there was much concern that our bigs couldn’t hold their own against the Chinese. There is actually a sliver of hope. All these Chinese bigs are very young and less experienced.

In our preview for the match against China, we noted that “For the Philippines to win, they need to push the tempo and run; something the Chinese prefer not to do because that neutralizes their height advantage and slower players. However, for the Filipinos to do just that, they need to collar those defensive rebounds. Japeth Aguilar, Christian Standhardinger and Raymond Almazan must hold their own inside. If Calvin Abueva can wreak havoc inside that will be a huge advantage. If the bigs can take the fight to the Chinese that gives the Philippines a chance because their strength is in the guard and forward positions. Plus, they need their outside artillery to get going.”

Standhardinger gave a very good account of himself in his FIBA Asia debut as he tallied 15 points, 6 rebounds, and 1 assist.

Aguilar finished with only 7 points and 3 boards but his 5 blocks were massive. Not even a breakaway lay-up by the Chinese was safe!

Almazan scored nine huge points, including a huge triple. No Ranidel De Ocampo? Almazan is here.

Despite Standhardinger and Aguilar battling early foul trouble, they managed to stay clear of fouls the rest of the way and that was crucial.

Fajardo being out allowed Standhardinger and Almazan to shine. This will serve them well in future national team campaigns as well as their respective pro ballclubs.

It is time for Asia to recognize Terrence Romeo as one of the best.

If you look at FIBA’s website, they have a Terrence Romeo mixtape. This isn’t the first time they’ve done that. That is usually reserved for the most exciting player, the game changer or fireman.

Romeo has been all that and more as he elevated his game to another level after leaving FEU a year early.

Romeo topscored with 26 points to go with 4 assists and 1 steal. And he has done well since coming up with Tab Baldwin’s team in 2015.

Now Jayson Castro is recognized as the Best Point Guard in Asia. It’s time for Romeo to be also in the same consideration as the Best Shooting Guard as well.

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