Jayson Castro (Phl) drives past Al Shamal (Qatar) in the FIBA World Cup Asian qualifier in Doha.
Almazan, Thompson out of Astana lineup
Nelson Beltran (The Philippine Star) - February 24, 2019 - 12:00am

ASTANA, Kazakhstan – In a meeting before practice Saturday night, the coaching staff opted to tap Japeth Aguilar, Mark Barroca, Andray Blatche, Jayson Castro, Poy Erram, June Mar Fajardo, Marcio Lassiter, Paul Lee, Gabe Norwood, Troy Rosario, RR Pogoy and Thirdy Ravena to compose the Gilas lineup versus Kazakhstan in the final game of the Filipinos in the FIBA World Cup qualifier tonight.

Though still nursing flu, Fajardo assured he’s good to play.

To sit out the match are Raymond Almazan and Scottie Thompson. 

Pogoy, who served out his FIBA suspension,  takes the place of Thompson, as the Filipinos go flat out to win the game and have a shot at a berth in the World Cup proper in China later this year.

The Filipinos are riding the momentum of an 84-46 rout of Qatar in Doha Thursday, and they’re eager to get going even with just a one-day preparation for their 8:30 p.m. tussle Sunday (10:30 p.m. in Manila) at Republican Velodrome Saryarka in the freezing Kazakh capital.

“I think we can only get better,” said Gilas coach Yeng Guiao from their 38-point blasting of the Qataris, with tremendous boost from returning naturalized player Andray Blatche.

“It’s a far cry from the first time we played Qatar, and Andray Blatche was the big difference between our struggle in the first game and in winning comfortably in the rematch,” said Guiao. “He wants to prove something on a personal basis. He wants to show his value to the team.”

And Guiao and the team are really looking forward to the rematch with the Kazakhs, determined to make up for their 88-92 heartbreaker in Manila last November.

But Guiao is sure it’s not going to be easy.

 “Kazakhstan is going to be a harder assignment, not only because they’re bigger but they’re a refined team because 10 of their players play for one team in their league. They’re more cohesive, and they’re playing in their home court,” said Guiao. “Plus the weather situation is not going to be friendly. Hindi tayo sanay, at di natin alam kung ano ang epekto noon sa players natin.”

Astana, considered the second coldest capital city in the world after Ulaanbataar, Mongolia, is now blanketed in snow.

But the Nationals are burning with their desire to salvage a World Cup ticket.

Complications abound but Gilas is focused to win its game against Kazakhstan.

It’s in a precarious position in the fight for the Top Four in Group F, and there’s a lot of complications in a scramble for the “best fourth position” against the other contenders from the other group.

What would give the Nationals a sure entry into the World Cup is a win against the Kazakhs, and a loss by either Lebanon or Jordan against Korea or  New Zealand, respectively.

Another path to the world joust is a three-way tie in Group F at second to fourth places with Iran and Japan. But that would entail a win by the Philippines over Kazakhstan and losses by both Iran and Japan to Australia and Qatar, respectively.

“With respect to qualifying, you can only focus on what you can control. Di natin kontrolado yung ibang factors. Wala na tayong magagawa, wala na tayong pakialam sa ibang teams. We can only hope and pray after taking our own responsibility,” said Guiao.

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