Safely in quarterfinals
SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson (The Philippine Star) - August 12, 2017 - 4:00pm

Regardless of the outcome of Gilas’ game against Qatar tonight, the Philippines is assured of pole position in Group B and an automatic ticket to the eight-team quarterfinals in the ongoing FIBA Asia Cup in Lebanon. A victory over winless Qatar will give Gilas a perfect 3-0 record with momentum a big factor moving into the knockout stage.

The Philippines opened its campaign with an emphatic 96-87 win over defending champion China then crushed Iraq, 84-68. Qatar has lost to Iraq, 75-66 and China, 92-67. If Gilas loses to Qatar, the Philippines will be tied for first place with the winner of the China-Iraq game, also scheduled today. Since Gilas defeated both China and Iraq, the Philippines will still come out on top by virtue of the winner-over-the-other rule. As for Qatar, the team is out of contention and a win over the Philippines will only be for prestige purposes.

Qatar is playing with a decimated lineup as naturalized import Sammy Monroe, a former PBA recruit, is injured. The 6-6 forward from NCAA Division II school Newberry was supposed to take over from Trey Johnson who led Qatar to seventh place at the previous FIBA Asia Cup in Changsha. Without Monroe, Qatar was easy pickings for Iraq and China. Only four players are back from the Changsha roster – 6-1 Abdulrahman Saad, 21, 6-6 Ali Saeed Erfan, 33, 6-9 Yehia Abdelhaleem, 21 and 6-8 Mohammed Yousuf Mohammed, 34. Two players who saw action at the 2014 Asian Games but missed Changsha are in the cast – 5-10 Mansour El-hadary, 27 and 6-9 Omar Salem, 33. Erfan and Salem were on the Qatar squad that played at the 2006 FIBA World Cup in Saitama.

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Saad is averaging 21 points, four rebounds and three assists for Qatar and will be a marked man against Gilas. Another Qatari hotshot is Erfan who’s hitting at a 15 point clip with a 9.5 rebounding norm. Erfan is shooting 50 percent from beyond the arc. RR Pogoy and Carl Bryan Cruz might get the assignment to stop Saad while Gabe Norwood and Calvin Abueva could take turns shadowing Erfan. Easily, the most experienced Qatari player is Erfan who is suiting up in his fifth FIBA Asia Cup and is a two-time Asian Gamer.

Abdelhaleem, Salem and 6-10 Nasser Al Rayes are Qatar’s bigs who’ll try to make life difficult for Christian Standhardinger, Japeth Aguilar and Raymond Almazan. Al Rayes, 22, is a newcomer to the international stage and is fresh from playing four straight years with the NCAA Division III school California Tech. Last season, Al Rayes averaged 13 points, 8.5 rebounds and 1.9 blocks while hitting 46.1 percent from the field and 69 percent from the line as a Cal Tech senior.

In the quarterfinals, Gilas will play the winner of the playoff game between Group D second placer Japan (won over Chinese-Taipei, 87-49 and lost to Australia, 84-68) and the Group C third placer (either South Korea or Lebanon) on Aug. 16. That will mean a two-day rest for the Philippines before the knockout game.

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After two outings, three Gilas players are averaging in double figure points – Terrence Romeo 21.5 shooting 53.3 percent from three-point distance, Standhardinger 15.5 hitting 66.7 percent from the field and Matthew Wright 10 connecting 44 percent from beyond the arc. Pogoy is averaging nine points with a 60 percent three-point clip. Jayson Castro is norming 7.0 points, 3.5 rebounds and 6.0 assists while Cruz is hitting at a 5.5 clip. Gilas is shooting at a higher clip from three-point range than two-point distance, 47.8 percent to 45.8 percent. 

Against Iraq last Friday, Gilas stormed back from a one-point halftime lead to drop a 28-9 bomb in the third period and cruised to a 16-point win. From a 35-35 tie, Gilas went on a 21-0 rampage to pull away for good. In the wake of Gilas’ third quarter storm, Iraq’s 6-9 Mohammed Al Khafaji fouled out. Iraq’s naturalized import Kevin Galloway, who hit 15 of his team’s 31 points in the first half, was blanked in the third period by Norwood’s defense. 

Gilas coach Chot Reyes’ rotation was impeccable as shock troopers came off the bench to provide instant impact like Jio Jalalon who delivered four points and Almazan who slammed in a dunk in the fourth period. Cruz was another outstanding reliever who netted 11 points, including 3-of-3 triples. Castro was 0-of-8 from the field and his only point came from a substitute free throw for Abueva, who was sidelined with blood in his hand, but stood out with four boards and six assists. That kind of team effort, resolve and spirit is what Gilas will need to bring down the bigger powers in the games to come.

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