Perlas joins FIBA Asia elite

Joaquin M. Henson - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - The Philippine national women’s basketball team withstood a late rally to stun India, 82-76, and gained promotion from Level II to Level I at the FIBA Asia Championships in Wuhan the other day. The win was Perlas’ fifth in a row after losing to Malaysia, 71-64, to open the 12-team competition as the Philippines wound up fifth overall, its highest finish in 31 years.

“We made history not once but twice,” said Perlas’ chief benefactor, Ever Bilena CEO and Blackwater PBA team owner Dioceldo Sy who celebrated at courtside. “First, we topped Level II and second, we won the playoff to enter Level I. Our girls poured their hearts out. We were undermanned but we fought despite the size advantage of all our opponents. This was Philippine women’s basketball at its best. I couldn’t ask for more. I’m so proud of this team.”

Perlas surged to the top of Level II after beating North Korea, 68-67, Sri Lanka, 65-45, Hong Kong, 75-62 and Kazakhstan, 80-73 in overtime. The Philippines and North Korea were tied with identical 4-1 records but Perlas took pole position due to the winner-over-the-other rule. In the relegation/promotion playoffs, the Philippines took on Level I No. 6 India while North Korea battled Level I No. 5 Thailand.

Both the Philippines and North Korea won their playoff games, relegating India and Thailand to Level II at the next FIBA Asia Championships. North Korea scuttled Thailand, 66-50. The Philippines and North Korea advanced to Level I to join China, South Korea, Japan and Chinese-Taipei in the 2017 edition. The Philippines’ best ever finish was fourth in 1984. Perlas was 10th in its two previous FIBA Asia appearances.

The win was sweet vindication for coach Pat Aquino who took flak for failing to lead Perlas to the podium at the recent Southeast Asian (SEA) Games. The Philippines was a win away from the gold medal but lost to Indonesia in an upset to wind up fourth.

“I commend my coaching staff, led by Pat and his assistants Julie Amos and Aries Dimaunahan, for a great job in forming and adjusting the team to game situations,” said Sy. “It was obvious that we had the superior coaching and training skills over the other teams in Level II.”

India broke out to a 22-16 lead in the first quarter but Perlas stormed back to take the driver’s seat, 39-37, at the half. The Philippines started the fourth period up by 12, 65-53, then India struck hard behind 5-10 Jeena Skaria to trim the gap to three, 74-71, with 2:16 to go. Spitfirish Ewon Arayi, a 5-4 Fil-Nigerian from Pangasinan, stole the ball and hit two free throws to ease the pressure. Skaria went 1-of-2 from the line before Allana Lim completed a dagger three-point play to make it, 79-72, with 50 seconds to go. Afril Bernardino closed out the scoring for Perlas with a two-point field goal and a free throw to ice it. Skaria led India with 28 points on 11-of-16 field goals and 6-of-8 free throws. Anitha Paul Durai shot 19.

Bernardino paced Perlas with 32 points, hitting 14-of-18 field goals and 3 of 5 free throws. Lim tallied 20 while Arayi netted 12 and Shelley Gupilan 11.

Perlas’ defense made the difference as India was forced into 22 turnovers while the Philippines had 15 miscues. Perlas had the edge in three-point conversions, 8-of-23 to India’s 6-of-12, as Arayi and Gupilan knocked down three apiece and Bernardino and Sofia Roman buried one each.

Aquino missed four key players from the SEA Games squad, namely Clare Castro, Danica Jose, Bambi Almazan and Fria Bernardo. Their spots were taken over by Jack Animam, Chovi Borja, Gemma Miranda and Andrea Tongco. Holdovers were Arayi, Bernardino, Raiza Dy, Gupilan, Lim, Cindy Resultay, Roman and Camille Sambile. The team’s average age was 23 years old and average height was 5-8.

Before the tournament, the Philippines was ranked No. 14 in FIBA Asia behind No. 5 India, No. 9 Kazakhstan, No. 11 Sri Lanka and No. 13 Hong Kong. Perlas’ fifth place finish in Wuhan is expected to turn the standings upside down. The Philippines was the lowest ranked entry in the tournament at world No. 58. North Korea wasn’t ranked because of lack of participation but made its presence felt in Wuhan by clinching a Level I slot.

Ewon Arayi @FACEBOOK



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