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Young Gilas Pilipinas crew proves mettle by going unscathed in Manama

HAD its share of doubters when it was sent to the second window of the 2021 International Basketball Association (FIBA) Asia Cup Qualifiers in Manama, Bahrain, the young Gilas Pilipinas team showed it deserved the opportunity given to it by sweeping its two-game assignment.

The Jong Uichico-coached team of amateur and collegiate stars completed a shutout of Thailand in their joust by taking the second game as well on Monday night in convincing fashion, 93-69.

It was in follow-up to Gilas’ 93-61 victory in its first game of the window on Friday.

The Philippines was steady on both ends once again, despite a better stand from the Thais than that in the opener.

Javi Gomez de Liano of the University of the Philippines led a balanced attack by Gilas, finishing with 19 points on an efficient 87.5% shooting clip on the floor.

His brother Juan finished with 14 points while Dwight Ramos and Matt Nieto had 13 and 12 points, respectively, in the win.

Isaac Go, meanwhile, had a near double-double of nine points and 10 rebounds.

Justine Baltazar only had two points, but pulled down 11 rebounds and had three steals.

For Thailand, it was big man Chanatip Jakrawan who showed the way with 34 points and 12 rebounds.

Just like in the first game, Thailand kept the game close in the first quarter before the Philippines put a firmer grip on the proceedings as the game progressed.

Gilas was on top, 53-34, at the halftime break and just kept its opponent at bay after on the way to the victory.

“We really harped on having our players execute our game plan both offensively and defensively. In our first game, we won big and we were concerned that maybe they will take this game for granted, but they did not,” said Mr. Uichico in the postgame press conference of the kind of mindset they had as they finished their campaign in the Bahrain window of the qualifiers.

With the win, the Philippines secured solo leadership in Group A with a 3-0 record, ahead of second-running South Korea (2-0), and fortified its position for a spot in the FIBA Asia Cup happening in August next year.

As per tournament format, the top two teams in each of the six groupings in the qualifiers advance outright to the Asia Cup.

Apart from solidifying its spot in the continental tournament, the success of the young Gilas Team in Bahrain bodes well for the thrust of the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas’ (SBP) program for the national team, including that for the FIBA World Cup in 2023, which the country is co-hosting with Japan and Indonesia.

“We’re really looking at this as a long-term program for the national team,” said SBP president Al Panlilio in the lead-up to the Manama window and in forming the young squad for the tournament.

The next window of the FIBA Asia Cup qualifiers is scheduled for Feb. 18 to 22 next year, with the Philippines possibly playing host to some games as the SBP offered the country to FIBA as a possible venue. — Michael Angelo S. Murillo

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