So after China and now Qatar, who will come next on Gilas way? Korea? Iran? New Zealand? Or even Australia too?
Payback has been the story for the Philippines in this year’s FIBA Asia Cup. After exacting revenge in their opening game against defending champion China, Gilas Pilipinas finally leveled their count against Qatar, the team that has beaten them during the quarterfinal round of the 2014 Asian Games, with an 80-74 victory on Sunday at the NouhadNawfal Sports Complex in Beirut, Lebanon.
Although revenge is not a big thing anymore, still, it was a sweet, morale-boosting victory for the nationals, whose some key players are still nursing with minor injuries, as they prepare for the quarterfinal knockout match against either Japan or archrival South Korea on Wednesday.
Korea is bannered by all but one of the players that represented them and defeated the Gilas Cadet during the 39th William Jones Cup.
Without key players like Junemar Fajardo, Christian Standhardinger, and even Calvin Abueva too, Gilas Pilipinas had to work hard down the stretch to fend off a Qatar’s comeback attempt and complete their sweep of Group B in front of the jam-packed stadium filled mostly by Filipinos supporters.
The Philippines led by as much as 20 points but needed all the help they can get from wingman Matthew Wright, who caught fire from beyond the arc, to hold on to their third straight victory.
Wright, who came into the game shooting just 4 of 9 from the 3-point land, went 7 of 12 this time to finish with a game-high 25 points and four assists to lead Gilas, who were still without 6-foot-11 Fajardo (strained right calf).
6-foot-8 Standhardinger (stiff neck) also did not play, while Abueva checked out with still two minutes left in the second quarter on what looked like to be a sprained left foot. Carl Bryan Cruz also had to exit with a right leg injury.
Before Cruz sat out, the Qataris were already knocking on the doors of the Filipinos, completing a 14-3 run to cut a 49-29 Gilas lead to just single digit before the third frame ended.
Terrence Romeo struggled to find his rhythm early but went on to deliver big at the crunch time to finish with 10 points and three assists, while Gabe Norwood had an all-around effort to score 10, on top seven boards and five assists.
Cruz, along with Wright, keyed a hot start for the Filipinos, drilling three 3-pointers on the way to a 13-point performance in the night that Gilas banked 15 treys as a unit to make up for the dismal 39 percent field goal shooting.
The Qataris pulled to within five – twice – late in the game, with the last at 70-75, where Wright drilled his seventh and final triple of the night to send the crowd into the frenzy.
Mansour Elhadary and AbdulrahmanSaad led Qatar with 23 and 18 points, respectively.
If the Philippines will defeat either Japan or Korea in the quarterfinals, it will most likely face Iran in the semis. The Filipinos have yet to defeat a Hamed Haddadi-led Iran team without an import.
If the Philippines will defeat Iran, then they might be facing Australia or New Zealand in the Finals.
The Australians defeated the Filipinos, 97-75, in their tuneup game in 2014 as a preparation for the FIBA World Cup. New Zealand, on the other hand, defeated the nationals last year here in Manila in the preliminary round of the Olympic Qualifying Tournament. This year’s FIBA Asia Cup is really a payback time for Gilas Pilipinas.
PHILIPPINES 80 – Wright 25, Wright 25, Cruz 13, Romeo 10, Norwood 10, William 6, Pogoy 5, Almazan 4, Aguilar 3, Jalalon 2
QATAR 74 – Elhadary 23, Saad 18, Erfan 9, Abdelhaleem 8, Mohamed 6, Al-Muftah 6, Mohamed 6, Mohmmed 4, Al-Darwish 0, Salem 0, Abdelkawy, 0, Al-Rayes 0
Quarterscores: 25-16, 41-27, 59-47