By Michael Angelo S. Murillo

GILAS Pilipinas earned automatic entry into the quarterfinals of the 2017 FIBA Asia Cup in Beirut, Lebanon, after it defeated Qatar, 80-74, last night and swept its assignments in its grouping in group play of the prestigious continental tournament.

Gilas sweeps group assignments, barges into quarterfinals
Matthew Wright led Gilas Pilipinas to an 80-74 win over Qatar last night to barge directly into the quarterfinals of the 2017 FIBA Asia Cup. — FIBA ASIA CUP WEB SITE

Finishing with a 3-0 record in Group B, the Philippine national men’s basketball team secured one of the four direct passes to the quarters given to the teams which finish at the top of the four groups at the initial round of the competition.

Gilas edged out defending champion China (2-1) and Iraq (1-2) in its group, leaving the latter two to go through the knockout qualification to earn a quarterfinal slot.

The Philippines joined New Zealand (Group C) and Australia (Group D) as early qualifiers. As of this writing, Iran (2-0) and Jordan (2-0) were to dispute the top spot in Group A.

Against Qatar, Gilas got the job done despite fielding in only 10 players, with big men June Mar Fajardo and Christian Standhardinger rested because of injury.

In their absence, Carl Bryan Cruz, Gabe Norwood and Calvin Abueva stepped up while Matthew Wright provided stability on offense.

The two teams fought it tooth and nail early in the match until Mr. Wright went on an eight-point scoring spree down the stretch to help his to a 25-16 lead at the end of the first quarter.

In the second period, it was Mr. Cruz who waxed hot for Gilas, scoring the team’s first 10 points to give them a 10-point cushion, 35-25 with 3:37 to go in the period.

Gilas would use it as a springboard to extend its lead to 14 points, 41-27, at the midway point of the game.

The Philippines continued to dominate at the start of the third canto, establishing its biggest lead of 20 points, 49-29, with a triple from Gabe Norwood at the 7:56 mark.

But Qatar would go on a mini run, outgunning Gilas 12-2, to cut its deficit by half, 51-41, with a little less than four minutes left in the period.

Gilas though would regroup and find its bearing to continue to hold sway, 59-47, at the end of the third quarter.

In the payoff quarter, Qatar tried hard to come back, even getting close by five points, 75-70, with 2:08 left in the game, but the Philippines was not a willing party to any comeback as Mr. Wright and Terrence Romeo continued to frustrate the Qatari team en route to the win.

Mr. Wright was the high point man for Gilas with 25 points, going 7-of-12 from three-point country.

Mr. Cruz had 13 while Mr. Norwood was do-it-all with 10 points, seven rebounds, five assists and two blocks.

Mr. Romeo was the other Gilas player who finished in double-digits in scoring with 10 points.

Mansour Elhadary, meanwhile, paced Qatar with 23 points and six assists while Abdulrahman Saad had 18 points and 11 boards.

In the quarterfinals, Gilas will either face South Korea (2-1) from Group C or Japan (2-1) from Group D, who are to play against each other in the knockout qualification today.