History in the making

SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson - The Philippine Star

Perlas couldn’t have shone more brightly yesterday as the Philippine national women’s team bucked the odds to upset highly-favored Kazakhstan, 80-73, in overtime at the FIBA Asia Championships in Wuhan. The win propelled Perlas to the top of the Level 2 standings and a win over India tomorrow will promote the Philippines to Level 1.

“This is history,” said Perlas’ chief benefactor, Ever Bilena CEO and Blackwater PBA team owner Dioceldo Sy who watched the game at courtside. “Now, we have a chance to go to Level 1. When we went up by six over Kazakhstan with 58 seconds to go in overtime, I knew that was it. This team is unbelievable.”

Ewon Arayi, the 5-4 spitfire from Adamson, erupted for 28 points, including 4-of-14 treys and 12-of-12 free throws. Allana Lim of FEU hit 17 while Shelly Gupilan and Andrea Tongco, both of NU, chipped in 10 apiece. Kazakhstan had more rebounds, 63-52, but Perlas had the edge in three-point conversions, 10-of-41 to 6-of-24, and free throw makes, 20-of-27 to 13-of-22.

A key contributor to Perlas’ big win was 5-8 Afril Bernardino who collected four points, 14 rebounds, five assists, six steals and two blocked shots. Perlas was on top at the half by a hair, 33-32, and regulation ended in a 63-all standoff. What brought the Philippines back in the fight was its feisty defense, holding the Kazakhs to nine points in the second period and eight in the fourth.

Kazakhstan was led by 6-1 Oxana Ossipenko and 6-0 Tamara Yagodkina with 19 points each. Center Kadezkda Kondrakova, a 6-4 bruiser, had 11 points and eight boards.

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“Kazakhstan played physical and rough, that’s how Kazakhstan is,” said Perlas coach Pat Aquino. “We couldn’t go in because they’re so big. Luckily, our outside shots fell in. Ewon hit four triples, Shelley three, Andrea two and Sofia Roman one. Everybody contributed in defense which was critical.”

Perlas got off on the wrong foot by losing to Malaysia, 71-64, to open the tournament. Then, the Philippines regained its bearings to nose out North Korea, 68-67 and crush Sri Lanka, 65-45 and Hong Kong, 75-62, to set up the showdown with Kazakhstan. The win over North Korea was a proof of character. Perlas recovered from 16 down to ice it with Cindy Resultay’s three-point play down the stretch. Resultay wound up with 14 points and seven boards.

North Korea finished second to the Philippines in Level 2, routing Malaysia, 83-45 and beating Kazakhstan, 68-55. Because of the Philippines’ loss to Malaysia, Perlas couldn’t afford a defeat to the Kazakhs who had disposed of Malaysia, 73-65. A loss to Kazakhstan would’ve struck the Philippines out of contention for a Level 1 slot.

As it turned out, the Philippines zoomed to first place in Level 1 with a 4-1 record. North Korea had the same record but settled for second place because of the winner-over-the-other rule. Tomorrow, the Philippines plays Level 1 No. 6 India for a spot in Level 1 at the next FIBA Asia Championships while North Korea takes on Level 1 No. 5 Thailand, also for a spot in Level 1.

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“India is tall and very experienced,” said Aquino. “I think India’s post players are better than Kazakhstan. They’ve got three bigs whom we must take care of. We’ll just have to make adjustments. We played tough defense and hit our outside shots against Kazakhstan. We have to do the same against India. The girls are eager to make history. This is their chance to move up to Level 1. We started poorly against Malaysia. Their outside shots were entering and we couldn’t do anything right. But it was a wake up call. From that loss, we’ve won four in a row.

Aquino said four players from the Southeast Asian Games lineup were not available for Wuhan. They are Clare Castro, Danica Jose, Bambi Almazan and Fria Bernardo. “We lost key bigs so we had to compensate by playing smarter and quicker,” he said. “We had to focus on defense as a team. We knew that in every game, we would be outsized so we had to make adjustments. Whatever success we’ve achieved is because of team effort. Everybody wants to be part of history.”

It won’t be easy beating India. At the 2013 FIBA Asia Championships, India was fifth in Level 1 and would’ve been demoted to Level 2 if it lost to Level 2 second placer Malaysia. India, however, stayed in Level 1 with a 74-59 trouncing of Malaysia. In this year’s edition, India is winless, losing to China by 63, Chinese-Taipei by 30, Japan by 100 and Thailand by two. Despite the poor showing, India will retain its spot in Level 1 with a win over the Philippines tomorrow.

The Level 1 teams are China, South Korea, Japan, Chinese-Taipei, India and Thailand while the Level 2 teams are the Philippines, North Korea, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Kazakhstan and Hong Kong. The Philippines is already assured of improving its FIBA rating. In FIBA Asia, the Philippines is ranked No. 14 behind No. 9 Kazakhstan, No. 11 Sri Lanka and No. 13 Hong Kong all of whom Perlas has beaten in Wuhan.

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