Gilas starts uphill battle for KO stages vs Japan

Joey Villar, Nelson Beltran - The Philippine Star

CHANGSHA – Gilas Pilipinas presses its bid for the knockout play as it tangles with old East Asian rival Japan at the start of the second round of the preliminary stage of the 2015 FIBA Asia Championship at the Changsha Social Work College Gymnasium here today.

With the loss to Palestine in the first round, Team Philippines (1-1) heads to Round Two tied with Japan (1-1) at third place behind Iran (2-0) and Palestine (2-0) in Group E.

At the resumption of action after a day break, Iran takes on Hong Kong at 9:30 a.m., Palestine tackles India at 11:45 a.m. while the Philippines and Japan play at 4:45 p.m. in Group E matches.

In Group F, South Korea (1-1) and Lebanon (1-1) clash at 2:30 p.m., China (2-0) and Kazakhstan (0-2) collide at 7:30 p.m. then Qatar (2-0) and Jordan (0-1) mix it up at 9:30 p.m.

For Gilas, it’s the virtual start of do-or-die matches as they pursue top seeding from Group E. Top seeding in their group will mean a match-up with the fourth seed from the other bracket in the quarterfinals.

“We’ll see how it goes. We can’t think of anything other than do or die now, really. Technically it isn’t that, (but) we can’t afford to slip any further because of the Palestine game,” said Baldwin.

“We’ve got to play all these games to win them, first of all to come out of this pool and second of all to get us as high as we can. Whether that’s first or second, we probably are in a reasonably good space if it’s first or second. If it’s third or fourth, it’s going to be really tough,” Baldwin added.

Riding the momentum of back-to-back wins over Hong Kong and Kuwait, the Nationals are fancied to make it three in a row versus the Japanese side that they have easily conquered in the recent Jones Cup.

The Philippines hasn’t actually lost a game versus Japan in years.

Gilas newcomers Terrence Romeo and Calvin Abueva made a show, with the former firing away 16 points and the latter collaring eight rebounds as the Filipinos clobbered the Japanese, 75-60, in the Taipei meet.

The Japanese, however, can surely compete as they’ve shown in their 60-54 upset of the South Koreans also in the Jones Cup.

Gilas, however, boasts of a much deeper bench against the Japan side that relies heavily on 6-foot-10 center Joji Takeuchi, playmaker Yuta Tabuse and a couple of deadly wingmen.

Japan advanced to the second round as the second seed from Group A as it whipped Malaysia, 119-48, and tripped India, 83-65. It dropped its opening game against Iran, 48-86.

“They’re tough, fast, and they’re well organized. We know each other a little bit from the Jones Cup. We’ve got to throw that result out of the window; it doesn’t mean anything now,” said Baldwin of the Japanese.

“I think they’re playing a little bit better now. They’ve got good players. They’ve got good shooters. They’ve got (Yuta) Tabuse. He runs the show pretty well for them,” Baldwin also said.

The Gilas mentor has so much respect on the Japanese guard, a 5-foot-10 spitfire with a brief stint in the NBA with the Phoenix Suns.

Next up for Gilas in this round is Iran tomorrow then India Tuesday.

Baldwin insists, though, they’re taking it one game at a time and they’re focused on the Japanese game.

“The target is the next game (Japan). The only pathway to get to a good place is play the next game to win it. We don’t look past Japan to Iran. We don’t look past Iran. We won’t give up the Iran game to ensure the India game. We play every game to win it,” he said.


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