Perlas bids to advance

SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson - The Philippine Star

The Philippine national women’s basketball team, known as Perlas, left yesterday morning to battle in the Level 2 division of the FIBA Asia Championships in Wuhan. The lineup lists eight holdovers from the squad that finished fourth at the recent Southeast Asian (SEA) Games.

Perlas makes its debut in the tournament against Malaysia tomorrow. Then, the team plays North Korea on Sunday, Sri Lanka on Monday, Hong Kong on Tuesday and Kazakhstan on Wednesday. If Perlas finishes first or second in the group, it gains a chance to advance to Level 1 in a playoff next Friday.

The contenders in Level 1 are China, South Korea, Japan, Chinese Taipei, India and Thailand. The winner of the competition earns a ticket to the Rio Olympics. The second and third placers will be invited to participate in an Olympic qualifying tournament.

Because it is in Level 2, Gilas has no chance to go for an Olympic slot. FIBA Asia split the 12 teams into two divisions to avoid lopsided scores. At the end of the round-robin eliminations, the Level 1 fifth placer faces the Level 2 second placer and the Level 1 sixth placer meets the Level 2 first placer in separate playoffs. The winners of both games will play in Level 1 at the 2017 FIBA Asia Championships. The losers will play in Level 2.

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At the 2013 edition, Thailand finished No. 1 in Level 2 and moved up to Level 1 after beating Level 1 sixth placer Kazakhstan, 67-53. Malaysia, the Level 2 runner-up, had a chance to join Thailand in Level 1 but lost to Level 1 fifth placer India, 74-59, in the playoff. The Philippines finished in a tie for third in Level 2 with a 3-2 record. Curiously, Thailand’s only loss in the eliminations was to Perlas, 65-59.

For a while, it looked like Perlas would breeze to the top of Level 2 after winning three in a row over Hong Kong, 87-57, Uzbekistan, 62-55 and Thailand. But the team lost its last two assignments to Malaysia, 60-56 and Indonesia, 60-54, in a heartbreaking tailspin to bow out of contention.

At the recent SEA Games, Perlas got back at Malaysia, 74-63, but lost to Thailand, 62-57 and Indonesia, 61-56. Wins over Vietnam and Singapore failed to lift Perlas to the podium as the Philippines wound up fourth. Now, coach Pat Aquino has an opportunity for redemption in Wuhan.

Aquino, however, will miss four key players from the SEA Games roster. Not in the Wuhan lineup are Clare Castro, Danica Jose, Bambi Almazan and Fria Bernardo. Their spots were taken over by 6-1 Jack Animam of NU, 5-7 Chovi Borja of FEU, 5-9 Gemma Miranda of NU and 5-5 Andrea Tongco of NU. The SEA Games holdovers are 5-4 Ewon Arayi of Adamson, 5-8 Afril Bernardino of NU, 5-6 Raiza Palmera Uy of FEU, 5-8 Shelley Gupilan of NU, 5-8 Allana Lim of FEU, 5-6 Cindy Resultay of UE, 5-6 Sofia Roman of Dartmouth and 5-10 Camille Sambile of FEU.

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Borja, 29, is making a return to Perlas after playing at the 2013 FIBA Asia Championships where she averaged 7.8 points in five games. Others who played in 2013 are Arayi and Resultay. Arayi averaged 9.8 points and Resultay, 2.0.

In Aquino’s staff are assistant coaches Julie Amos and Aris Dimaunahan.

Expected to make waves in Wuhan is Malaysia, fresh from capturing the gold medal at the SEA Games. Malaysia’s only SEA Games loss was to the Philippines so their encounter will be a war tomorrow. Indonesia, the SEA Games silver medalist, opted not to participate at the FIBA Asia Championships this year.

China is the world’s highest-ranked team in Level 1 at No. 8. The other rankings are No. 12 South Korea, No. 15 Japan, No. 35 Chinese-Taipei, No. 39 India and No. 42 Thailand. In Level 2, Malaysia ranks No. 40, Kazakhstan No. 49, Sri Lanka No. 54, Hong Kong and the Philippines both at No. 58 and North Korea unlisted.

In the Asian ladder, the Philippines is way below at No. 14 behind No. 1 China, No. 2 South Korea, No. 3 Japan, No. 4 Chinese-Taipei, No. 5 India, No. 6 Malaysia, No. 7 Thailand, No. 8 Uzbekistan, No. 9 Kazakhstan, No. 10 Lebanon, No. 11 Sri Lanka, No. 12. Indonesia and No. 13 Hong Kong. Perlas intends to correct the ratings discrepancy in Wuhan since it beat Hong Kong, Uzbekistan and Thailand at the 2013 FIBA Asia Championships.

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