By Michael Angelo S. Murillo
THE Philippine national men’s basketball team ended its sojourn in Spain, part of its FIBA World Cup preparations, on a winning note, defeating Ivory Coast, 73-63, on the final day of the Torneo de Malaga on Sunday, Manila time.
Towed by the strong efforts of guard Robert Bolick and naturalized player Andray Blatche, Gilas Pilipinas made sure it did not finish the pocket tournament sans a victory.
All in all Gilas had a 3-1 record in Spain, including two wins in tune-up games against Congo and Ivory Coast early last week.
The team, however, lost to Congo, 82-71, in the tournament proper on Saturday, in the process depriving the Philippines the chance to face world number two Spain, led by National Basketball Association stars Marc Gasol and Ricky Rubio, in the four-country tournament.
Against Ivory Cost yesterday, Gilas had a solid start to set the tone for the team the rest of the way.
Yeng Guiao-coached Gilas took a narrow 17-13 lead after the first quarter before stretching its advantage to 10 points, 39-29, by the halftime break.
The Philippines, which played with a nine-man rotation anew as veteran Gabe Norwood sat out the game to nurse an injured groin, continued to hold sway in the third canto.
Ivory Coast tried to come back in the fourth period but Gilas would not allow anything such to happen as it went on and booked the win.
Mr. Bolick led the way for the Philippines, finishing with 19 points and seven assists with Mr. Blatche tallying 18 points and 18 rebounds.
Paul Lee and Japeth Aguilar had nine points apiece while CJ Perez finished with eight markers.
For Ivory Coast it was Deon Thompson who top-scored with 20 points to go along with 11 boards with Guy Landry Edi finishing with 15 and Mohamed Kone 11 points.
Gilas is expected to be back in the country by Tuesday and continue its preparations in the next two weeks before flying to China for the World Cup, happening from Aug. 31 to Sept. 15.
The team though should continue missing key cogs in on-court practices this week as the Philippine Basketball Association Commissioner’s Cup finals series is still ongoing.
Currently playing in the finals are Gilas pool members Troy Rosario and Roger Pogoy of the TNT KaTropa and June Mar Fajardo of the San Miguel Beermen while his teammate Marcio Lassiter is currently sidelined with a knee strain.
Game Four of the best-of-seven PBA Commissioner’s Cup finals series was to be played later yesterday. In the World Cup, the Philippines is bracketed in Group D along with Serbia, Italy and Angola in the opening round.