GILAS Pilipinas Women will take on China in the opener of its FIBA Women’s Asia Cup campaign on Monday. — FIBA

THE Philippine women’s national basketball team begins its International Basketball Federation (FIBA) Women’s Asia Cup campaign on Monday, taking on top-ranked China in the opener at the Prince Hamza Hall in Amman, Jordan.

Bannered by a mix of veterans and seniors-debuting players, Gilas Pilipinas Women faces off with the Chinese team in a match scheduled for 9 p.m. (Manila time). It will be the first of three matches for the Philippines in Group B of the competition, where it will also take on Australia and Chinese-Taipei.

The goal for the Gilas women is to stay in the top three in the grouping to advance to the next round and avoid risking being relegated to Division B play in FIBA Asia.

Playing in Group A, meanwhile, are Japan, South Korea, New Zealand and India.

Coached by long-time national team bench tactician Patrick Aquino, Gilas Women is composed of Southeast Asian Games 2019 double gold medal winners Afril Bernardino, Janine Pontejos and Clare Castro. They are joined by fellow veterans Andrea Tongco, Chack Cabinbin, Mar Prado, Khate Castillo and Ria Nabalan.

Making their senior team debuts, meanwhile, are Ella Fajardo, Camille Clarin, Ann Pingol, and Kristine Cayabyab.

Against China, Gilas Women is in for a tough challenge outright as it is up against a team seeking redemption after failing to bring home the title last time around, finishing runner-up to Japan in 2019.

The Chinese, too, will also enjoy a ceiling advantage against the Filipinos with an average height of 6-foot-1 to the latter’s 5-foot-8.

Leading the way for China are Yueru Li, Xu Han and Siyu Wang, who all figured prominently in the FIBA player power rankings heading into the tournament.

Gilas Women, however, is undaunted, vowing to still represent and compete the best way it can.

“We’re up against the continent’s best teams and we just have to take advantage of every opportunity presented to us on the court and build on them,” Mr. Aquino shared prior to leaving for Jordan.

The Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP), the country’s federation for the sport, is rallying behind Gilas Women, highlighting its continued improvement would go a long way in the organization’s push to further grow women’s basketball in the Philippines.

“The continued growth of women’s basketball in the country is one of the pillars of the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas and this is why the Federation, along with our partners, will do everything we can to support our Gilas Pilipinas Women,” said SBP Special Assistant to the President Ryan Gregorio in a statement.

Gilas Pilipinas Women had its “bubble” training at the Summit Point Golf & Country Club in Lipa, Batangas, for two weeks as part of its preparation.

In 2019, the Philippines went 0-3 in group play of the Asia Cup, but salvaged one win over India in the seventh place game to avoid being relegated. — Michael Angelo S. Murillo