The Asia Qualifiers for the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup is now well into its second round, with the survivors of the first round now more determined than ever to prevail against the competition in order to reach the main event itself in China. That goes double for Gilas Pilipinas, the Philippines National Men’s Basketball Team, which has suffered some painful setbacks in the tournament against Australia in July and Iran last week. Tragedy seemed to loom at the start of their Monday qualifier against Qatar, but after weathering a 3-point storm, the bloodied by determined Gilas roster ultimately prevailed.
ESPN 5 reports that after making Filipinos worry for the first half, Team Philippines went on to finish a closely-contested encounter against Qatar on September 17, at the sixth game for Group F of the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup Asia qualifiers. Fresh off the loss at the hands of Iran on the first game for the Group held last week, Gilas under head coach Yeng Guiao were keenly aware that they are at the edge of the precipice for elimination. But initially the players seemed out of sorts at the court, allowing their Qatari opponents to take the lead.
One possible factor for the Philippines’ low starting energy was the lack of an audience at Smart Araneta Coliseum; as part of sanctions received from their July 2 brawl with Australia, they would play their next home game behind closed doors. Qatar thus capitalized with a barrage of 3-point shots that put their lead in the double digits for the first half, with Mohd Mohmmed contributing 26 points and 7 rebounds. Towards halftime, Gilas was trailing at 17 points maximum and had yet to reduce the lead even to single digits. The silent arena only seemed to make things harder.
But the Gilas players knew what was at stake. They already lost hosting rights to China for 2019 (and only mollified by joint hosting duties with Japan and Indonesia for 2023); they would not be shut out of the FIBA Cup again. Japeth Aguilar and Alex Cabagnot each put 16 points towards catching up to Qatar on the third quarter, and with a jump shot from Aguilar, the lead switched to the Philippines and never changed back. The game ended with a 92-81 victory for Gilas. This puts the national team 5-3 in Group F, still in contention for 2019.
Coach Yeng Guiao feels proud and relieved that his team never gave up event with their sluggish beginning against Qatar and focused on defense until the other team began to tire. I just felt that we had to hang on, we just had to play our defense,” he said. “They’re not going to be able to sustain 55 percent shooting. So when that time comes, we should be able to raise up our own percentage and keep the game close.”
Image courtesy of ABS-CBN News