By Michael Angelo S. Murillo
Senior Reporter
THE Philippine national youth team is halfway through its goal in the FIBA U18 Asian Championship after completing a sweep of group play to notch a direct pass to the quarterfinals of the tournament in Bangkok, Thailand.
Going 3-0 in Group B, Batang Gilas got a one-day break as it awaits its opponent for the knockout quarterfinals today at the Stadium 29 in Nonthaburi. It is a situation that the team was angling to be in even before it left for Thailand, seeing it as a good springboard to jump from in advancing in the competition.
“Our goal is to win each game so we’ll get the best possible standing after the group stages,” said Batang Gilas coach Josh Reyes in the send-off for the team hosted by staunch supporter Chooks-to-Go last week.
“We play three games in the group stages then we cross over with the other group, then that will be a knockout match. But if we don’t finish number one, then we expect to play maybe six to seven games in the week-long tournament. That’s just how the tourney is,” he added.
Batang Gilas surely worked hard to get in the position it is, dominant in its first two games over Lebanon, 75-53, and United Arab Emirates, 92-49, before showing great resolve amid a tough challenge from China in the end game to win its final group assignment, 73-63, on Tuesday to make its way into the next round.
True as billed, 6’10” Filipino-Nigerian AJ Edu has been a boon to the Philippine U18 team’s cause, leading the squad with averages of 15.3 points, 11.3 rebounds and 3.7 blocks.
Sean Ildefonso has been solid as well with 13 points per game while Italy-based player Dalph Panopio has been all-around for 10.3 points, 4.7 rebounds, 4.7 assists and two steals.
Seven-foot Kai Sotto, meanwhile, is norming 12.3 points, 8.7 rebounds and 1.7 blocks.
In the quarterfinals today, Batang Gilas could either face Chinese Taipei or Bahrain, which were to play in a knockout playoff match later yesterday to determine which of them get to advance to the quarterfinals.
Chinese Taipei finished second in Group D with a 2-1 record while Bahrain wound up at third in Group C with a 1-2 card.
Joining the Philippines as an early entrant into the quarterfinals were Iran (3-0) from Group A, Australia (3-0) from Group C and South Korea (3-0) from Group D.