By Michael Angelo S. Murillo
THE Philippine national men’s basketball team plunges back into action in the FIBA Basketball World Cup Asian Qualifiers, beginning against Qatar on 12 a.m., Friday (Manila time), in Doha.
A crucial phase in its World Cup bid, Gilas Pilipinas needs to sweep their two remaining games in the sixth and final window of the qualifiers to give their push for a spot in the quadrennial basketball spectacle a major boost.
The Yeng Guiao-coached and Philippine Basketball Association-backed Gilas team will try to make up for its two defeats, both here in Manila, in the fifth window in November and December last year, which dropped the team to fourth place in the merged Group F with a 5-5 record.
Gilas is now trailing Australia (9-1), Iran (7-3) and Japan (6-4) in the race while still ahead of Kazakhstan (4-6) and Qatar (2-8) heading into the sixth window.
Australia is the lone team from the grouping that has booked a spot in the World Cup so far while Qatar is already eliminated.
Tournament format calls for the top three teams in the two merged groups advancing outright to the FIBA Basketball World Cup in China later this year, with the best fourth-placed team advancing, too.
In FIBA’s assessment, the Philippines can finish anywhere between third and fifth. It could notch a spot in the World Cup with as little as one win as it holds a tie-breaker against Japan, but even if it wins both games in the sixth window, both away matches against Qatar and Kazakhstan, it will have to depend on other results.
Alternatively, FIBA said, the Philippines could qualify as the best fourth-placed team in Asia as long as it avoids losing to Kazakhstan by more than 48 points or losing twice in the final window, as it would finish fifth. It would also finish fifth if Kazakhstan wins both games and Japan wins at least once.
For the game against Qatar, Mr. Guiao and the rest of the Gilas think tank are going with a team composed of naturalized player Andray Blatche, Japeth Aguilar, JP Erram. Gabe Norwood, Mark Barroca, June Mar Fajardo, Thirdy Ravena, Marcio Lassiter, Troy Rosario, Jayson Castro, Paul Lee and Scottie Thompson.
In their first game against Qatar in the fourth window in September, the Philippines won, 92-81, in a match played behind closed doors at the Smart Araneta Coliseum as part of the sanctions on the country for its role in the infamous brawl between the Philippines and Australia in the third window in July in Bulacan.
Gilas had a rough start and trailed the Qataris for much of the opening half. It eventually found its groove in the second half to book the win.
Mr. Aguilar and Alex Cabagnot led the Philippines with 16 points each in the win with naturalized player Stanley Pringle and Beau Belga finishing in double figures as well with 13 and 11 points, respectively.
Center Mohd Yousuf Mohmmed, meanwhile, paced Qatar with 26 points with Tanguy Alban H Ngombo and Nasser Khalifa Al-Rayes adding 17 points each.
While it had the number of the Qataris in their previous match, Gilas is treating the match at hand as a whole new ball game with much sense of urgency.
“We have to remember we are coming off two losses (against Iran and Kazakhstan). We must humble ourselves and do not underestimate our opponents more so since we know they will represent their countries and be at their best at home,” Mr. Norwood said in the lead-up to their match against Qatar.
“We must not underestimate them (Qatar). We need to adjust and pay attention to details if we want to succeed,” Mr. Erram, for his part, said.
The Philippines-Qatar game at the Al-Gharafa Sports Club Multipurpose Hall will be shown live over ESPN5 and via live stream on espn5.com. Pre-show starts at 11:30 p.m., Thursday.
By Michael Angelo S. Murillo