Losing not an option for Gilas
SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson (The Philippine Star) - February 21, 2019 - 12:00am

With two games left in the FIBA Asia/Pacific World Cup Qualifiers and the Philippines holding on to fourth place in one of two six-team groups leading to the final window, losing isn’t an option for Gilas in battling host Qatar in Doha tonight.

Even if the Philippines beats Qatar then Kazakhstan in Astana on Feb. 24, it’s still not a sure ticket for Gilas to advance to the World Cup. Two wins will raise the Philippines’ record to 7-5. But if third placer Japan also wins its last two games to improve to 8-4, Gilas will stay at No. 4. The top three placers in each of the two groups automatically qualify for the World Cup. But there will be a slot left for the team with the better fourth place record from either group. That means if the Philippines stays at No. 4, its record must be better than the fourth placer in the other group to qualify.

If the Philippines wins two games and Japan loses one, they will tie for third place at 7-5. In this case, the Philippines clinches the World Cup ticket by virtue of a better quotient over Japan. The Philippines beat Japan, 77-71, in the first window and 89-84 in the second. Japan’s last two games are against Iran tonight and Qatar on Feb. 24, both on the road. 

At the moment, the effective fourth placer in the other group is Jordan with a 5-5 record. New Zealand is on top of the ladder at 9-1, followed by South Korea at 8-2, China at 6-4, Lebanon at 6-4 and Jordan. Since China has an automatic qualifying ticket as host, it will not count in the standings so Lebanon is effectively No. 3 and Jordan No. 4. That means if the Philippines and Jordan finish fourth in their groups, Gilas must submit a better record to qualify.

Jordan’s last two games are against China tonight and New Zealand on Feb. 24. Both games will be played in Jordan. If Jordan loses both games, its record will drop to 5-7 in which case the Philippines will qualify with just one more win.

A darkhorse is Kazakhstan, now in fifth place in the same group as the Philippines with a 4-6 mark. If the Kazakhs win their last two games, they improve to 6-6 and could make things rough for Gilas. If the Philippines beats Qatar and loses to Kazakhstan, it will also finish at 6-6 but will yield No. 4 to the Kazakhs because of an inferior quotient. Kazakhstan defeated the Philippines, 92-88, in the fifth window.   

Kazakhstan will host Australia tonight and the Philippines on Feb. 24. The Kazakhs got a boost in their bid to play in the World Cup with the road victory over Gilas. With two home games in their schedule, they’re optimistic of delivering before the homecrowd. To enhance their chances, the Kazakhs brought in naturalized player Anthony Clemmons who’ll make his debut with the national team in the sixth window. Clemmons, 24, is from the University of Iowa and is currently averaging 16.9 points, 4.1 rebounds and 5.7 assists with Astana in the Kazakh league. 

Seven teams will qualify from the Asia/Pacific region to the World Cup, excluding host China. In all, there will be eight teams from Asia/Pacific to play in the 32-nation conclave. So far, the qualified teams are Australia, New Zealand, South Korea and host China. Out of contention are India, Hong Kong, Iraq and Chinese-Taipei from the first round and Qatar and Syria from the second. So four more slots are available. In contention are Iran, Lebanon, Japan, Philippines, Jordan and Kazakhstan. Two of those six teams will fall by the wayside.  

Lebanon’s last two games are against New Zealand and South Korea so there’s a chance it could end up 6-6. Iran will play Japan then Australia. If Japan continues its torrid win streak, Iran could finish at 7-5. How the other teams will do isn’t a concern for Gilas coach Yeng Guiao right now. His only focus is to win over Qatar and Kazakhstan. The first priority is to repeat over Qatar then it’s off to Astana to face the freezing weather and the Kazakhs who are waiting in ambush.

For Qatar, Guiao enlisted Thirdy Ravena whose older brother Kiefer played four games in the first two windows of the Qualifiers. Left out were Raymond Almazan, who sprained an ankle and R. R. Pogoy, who’ll serve the last game of his FIBA suspension. Assistant coach Caloy Garcia said Almazan is now walking better so “maybe he’ll be OK for the Kazakhstan game.” As for Ravena, Garcia said “he’s really good, plays so hard (and) defends well.”

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