By Michael Angelo S. Murillo
HAD its FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifier bid dealt a big blow last time around, the Philippine men’s national basketball team looks to bounce back in its fifth-window home stand today at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City against Iran.
Fell to Kazakhstan, 92-88, on Nov. 30 in the first of two games at home, Gilas Pilipinas dropped to joint third in the standings in the merged Group F and was pushed into a position where it has to sweep its remaining games in the qualifier to advance to the World Cup in China next year complication-free, beginning in today’s game against visiting Iran set for 7:30 p.m.
Unable to contain the mobile big men of Kazakhstan, notably veteran Alexandr Zhigulin, Yeng Guiao-coached Gilas was left frustrated all game long as it could not get its game soaring as much as it wanted to.
Mr. Zhigulin outplayed his counterpart from the Philippines, torching Gilas with 30 points, going 10-of-16 from the field and six-of-12 from beyond the arc, to go along with seven rebounds.
Backstopping him was center Anton Bykov who had a near double-double of 20 points and nine boards.
Designated Filipino naturalized player Stanley Pringle tried his best to lead Gilas to the victory, finishing with 29 points, 14 coming in an impressive third-quarter performance, but it proved not enough in the end.
June Mar Fajardo had 14 points and 13 rebounds while Marcio Lassiter had 13 in the loss.
The defeat dropped the Philippines to joint third place with streaking Japan at 5-4, behind group leaders Australia (8-1) and Iran (6-3).
Tournament format calls for the top three teams from the two merged groupings advancing to the FIBA World Cup 2019.
Mr. Guiao said that it was lamentable that they were not able to get the job done against Kazakhstan but remains optimistic that they would be able to bounce back and fortify anew their spot to advance to the main draw of the World Cup.
“We’re disappointed with the loss but we still have one game left on Monday and we cannot feel too negative about this loss. I think we can still salvage the situation if we are able to put up a good game against Iran and learn from this game,” said Mr. Guiao during the postgame press conference on Friday.
“We are still a long way from being the team we really wanted to be and exploit our full potential. But I take full responsibility for this and we’re looking to play better in our next game,” he added.
As of this writing, Gilas has yet to release the names of the players who will make up the team against Iran.
But Christian Standhardinger is set to replace Mr. Pringle as the team’s naturalized player with Gilas veterans Jayson Castro and Troy Rosario as well as Arwind Santos reportedly joining the team.
Iran, for its part, is coming into the game off a 76-47 shellacking at the hands of Australia in Melbourne also on Nov. 30.
Gilas Pilipinas versus Iran will be shown live over TV5 and live stream over espn5.com.