Gilas resumes quest for gold as FIBA Asia 'Final 8' unfolds
Joey Villar, Nelson Beltran (Philstar.com) - September 30, 2015 - 3:18am

Games Thursday

2:30 p.m. – Iran vs South Korea

4:45 p.m. – Japan vs Qatar

7:30 p.m. – India vs China

9:30 p.m. – Philippines vs Lebanon

CHANGSHA – Three wins away from a Rio trip, Gilas Pilipinas presses its Olympic quest as it tangles with familiar rival Lebanon at the start of the knockout stage of the 2015 FIBA Asia Championship at the Changsha Social Work College Gymnasium here on Thursday.

In practice Wednesday, each member of the team insisted the goal is to clinch the Olympic berth that has been elusive for the country for over four decades now.

They vowed to keep the fire of their five-game streak in the preliminary round and get past the Lebanese for a place in the Final Four that will assure Gilas of at least a spot in the wild card play for the quadrennial games.

Host China, titleholder Iran, South Korea, Japan, Qatar and India are the other teams figuring in the FIBA Asia Final Eight battles.

Iran and South Korea face off at 2:30 p.m., Japan and Qatar square off at 4:45 p.m., China and India slug it out at 7:30 p.m. then the Philippines and Lebanon fight it out at 9:30 p.m.

Gilas and its West Asian foe engage in a matchup between the Group E top seed and Group F fourth seed.

For good measure, Gilas coach Tab Baldwin said they would just focus on the game.

“We’re on different level? No. We’re both quarterfinalists,” said Baldwin to point out both teams have a chance to move to the semifinals versus the winner of the Qatar-Japan duel.

“Lebanon is a strong team. They came here to advance deep in this tournament. They’ve placed to do that. We’ve placed better to do that. But the second round doesn’t matter now. It’s the quarterfinals and you can throw all the records out now. Throw the wins and the losses now. It’s do or die,” said Baldwin.

Since Lebanon’s 60-50 conquest of Team Phl in Fukuoka, Japan in 1999, this is the first time that the two teams meet again head-on in the FIBA Asia Championship.

In 2012, the Jarrid Famous-reinforced Lebanon quintet pummeled Team Phl, 91-72, in the Jones Cup, but the Filipinos got back at the Lebanese in the succeeding FIBA Asia Cup in Tokyo.

Gilas has progressed from there, getting a journey all the way to the World Cup in Spain last year while Lebanon reeled from turmoil back home leading to a two-year suspension from the FIBA rolls.

Baldwin insisted though that Lebanon can’t be taken for granted. He knows the Lebanon team as he’s spent a good period of time coaching the Lebanese national team.

He feels the Nationals are now primed to play playoff basketball.

“We’re never as ready as we’d like to be, but we’re getting better. (The players) are responding better to situations, ball movement is better, and certainly defense is better than it was early in the tourney,” said Baldwin.

“The other thing is that we’re not fouling as much as we did in the early part of the preparation. In the Jones Cup, we’re constantly in foul trouble situation. Now you see where a little disciplined on defense but we’re not soft. That’s nice progression for the team,” he added. “We’re gonna need that intelligence for this round because the obstacles are bigger, smarter and tougher.”

In 2013 in Manila, Gilas also topped its group in the preliminary rounds and went all the way to clinch a ticket to the World Cup.

After the early exit in Tokushima in 2007, Team Phl has improved to eighth in Tianjin in 2009, fourth in Wuhan in 2011 and second place the last time out.

Here in Changsha, Baldwin and his troops said they’re all in for all or nothing.

ACIRC ASIA CHAMPIONSHIP ASIA CUP BALDWIN LEBANON QUOT SCRIPT SOUTH KOREA TEAM TEAM PHL WORLD CUP
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