NBA
The Philippine women's 3x3 basketball team is a work in progress.
Rick Olivares
Learning to fly: Philippine women's 3x3 team
Rick Olivares (philstar.com) - June 14, 2018 - 10:17am

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine women’s 3x3 team to the 2018 FIBA 3x3 World Cup looked outclassed against the Netherlands, their opening assignment. The Filipinas fell, 21-11. They looked out of it that they didn’t even shoot a single free throw.

After the game, it was an upset head coach Patrick Aquino who gathered his team around him by the practice courts of the Philippine Arena. He didn’t yell. He was careful not to rail at them too much. Not with another match looming in four hours’ time.

“We need to toughen up,” he said, looking at Jack Danielle Animam, who only registered a point and a block in the loss. “We rehearsed this. You know what to expect. Play our opponents tougher. If not, they will walk all over you.”

The girls did just that against Germany, the 11th-seeded women’s team. It was more than a basketball game. At times, it was like a UFC match as the Filipinas came out a lot more physical.

While the physicality of the game is nothing new to the Germans, they weren’t used to smaller players pushing them around. The Filipinas outrebounded and outhustled the German women that allowed them to attempt 33 shots to the 26 of the Europeans.

Unfortunately, while Janine Pontejos was on target from 3-point range against the Netherlands, she missed all seven of her attempts from that area this match, including three in the final 40 seconds of play. As such, it was up to Afril Bernardino to carry the scoring cudgels by her lonesome. Bernardino scored on a variety of daring drives that had the partisan crowd cheering. However, her guns fell silent in the last few minutes as well and the Philippines fell short, losing 12-10, to drop to 0-2.

This time around, Aquino wasn’t upset. “See,” he pointed out. “Kaya natin.”

But the girls were in tears. Pontejos was disconsolate. “Babagsak din yan,” encouraged Aquino. “Tira ka lang, bata.”

Yet on his way to the media room, Aquino was shaking his head and biting his lip. He is a man unaccustomed to losing, having won a lot with National University over the past four years. Internationally, it was harder, but this is the FIBA 3x3 World Cup. Still, he knew his team had chance of winning a game or two.

“Now all we need if for Afril and Janine to click at the same time,” he told me.

The day off allowed the Filipinas to recover from the disappointing losses. The girls were in smiles at the outpouring of support from the fans and media. There was still hope. They had to win their last two matches. Unfortunately, they had to go up against Spain and Hungary — two seeded teams.

Aquino’s fears were once more realized as Bernardino and Pontejos couldn’t get going at the same time. Bernardino again couldn’t find the range. Pontejos though shot the lights out, scoring 13 points, including five triples. But Spain had an answer for Pontejos — their very own spitfire in Paula Palomares, who finished with 11 points, including three triples.

While both players came close to cancelling each other out, Palomares got early support from Aitana Mediavilla and Nuria Martinez.

Spain eked out a 21-17 win to advance while ousting the Philippines from quarterfinal contention.

This time, the tears flowed freely. Aquino himself had to bite his lip.

The final match against Hungary was just a chance to finish strong. The girls and the Filipino crowd weren’t the only ones praying for a miracle win. Seated at the players stand were the Dutch, who prayed for either an upset by the Philippines or for Hungary to score less than 14 points.

No one got their wish.

This time, the more physical game of the Filipinas took their toll as they entered into penalty situation earlier. The Hungarians took advantage and their star, Dora Medgyessy, took charge down the stretch and scored the killer blows. She also got capable support from Bettina Bozoki, who like Medgyessy scored 8 points.

“Hey,” sounded off Aquino to draw his wards’ attention, “Lumaban tayo. We earned everyone’s respect these past few days. Taas noo tayo. Alam naman natin that if we had more experience, we would have gotten a win or two, maybe more. Be proud.”

Added Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas Executive Director Sonny Barrios, “Tama si coach. Be proud of yourself because you called attention to women’s basketball. Ngayon pioneer kayo diya sa 3x3, World Cup pa man din. You’ve become a source of inspiration.”

After an uplifting pep talk from the basketball official, Aquino told his troops to head out to the meet the media,“Let’s go talk to the press.”

Gemma Miranda, who struggled for much of the tournament, quickly went over to her partner for a kiss. And she made her way to the back room waving her hands to the appreciative fans.

When the Filipinas first faced the media after the loss to Germany, Animam couldn’t hold back the tears in front of the media. There were no tears this time. There were pained smiles. But smiles nonetheless. And perhaps more importantly, their valiant showing demanded attention to women’s basketball, five-on-five and three-on-three.

“You know,” postulated a beaming Aquino after Pontejos won a gold medal in the Shoot-out Contest, “sometimes, we need to fall before we can fly. But we didn’t really fall, did we?”

No, we didn’t, coach. No, we didn’t.

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