Gilas Rio-or-bust begins vs Lebanon
Joey Villar, Nelson Beltran (The Philippine Star) - September 30, 2015 - 10:00am

Games today

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 – Gilas Pilipinas, whose gung-ho comeback led to a less perilous but still dangerous path to the Olympics, hopes to live through three sudden deaths to realize its mission beginning tonight against Lebanon in the 2015 FIBA Asia championship here.

The Nationals have moved three games away from breaching the nation’s 43-year Olympic drought and they vowed to have it all or perish doing it all.

“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 Gilas coach Tab Baldwin.

In yesterday’s practice, each member of the team reiterated that the goal is to clinch the gold and the Olympic berth that has eluded the country since the 1972 Munich Olympics.

They appeared confident and in high morale coming off a five-game run in the preliminary round that started with a shock defeat to Palestine 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, handled by Serbian Veselin Matic, engage in a matchup between the Group E top seed and Group F fourth seed.

Baldwin said they need to focus on the game.

“We’re on a 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. 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, making it all the way to the World Cup in Spain last year while Lebanon reeled from turmoil back home leading to a two-year FIBA suspension.

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.

But he feels the Nationals are now primed up 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 we’re 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.  

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