Gilas back as kings of region

PHNOM PENH — It’s probably the sweetest, most meaningful celebration of a Southeast Asian Games gold medal in men’s basketball ever for the Philippines.

For nearly a year, Gilas Pilipinas and 100 million hoops-crazy countrymen patiently waited for redemption from the “Horror in Hanoi.”

From unlikely, even unacceptable, silver in the Vietnam SEAG, the Nationals are now back to their lofty perch as kings of the region.

This they formalized by beating group stage conqueror Cambodia and its host of naturalized players in yesterday’s finale, 80-69, at the Morodok Elephant Hall 2.

Justin Brownlee fired 23 points with seven rebounds and four assists while the rest of the crew worked tirelessly 40 full minutes to get the job done for a proud Philippine side that couldn’t afford another nightmarish moment in its regional stronghold.

“The players did a hell of a job. They stuck together. We kept this (Cambodian) team of five, six Americans to under 70 points. That was great defense,” said coach Chot Reyes after receiving the victory ride he was denied of when a different batch of Gilas team infamously lost the golden battle to Indonesia.

“In the end, it was our defense that got us through to the gold medal,” he added.

The climb back to the top was steep and rocky.

The hot conditions of the poorly ventilated venue and the risky-to-injury taraflex flooring were a handful, as did the Cambodian rivals for the gold, who dealt them a  deflating 79-68 loss in group play.

But this didn’t stop Mr. Reyes’ spirited troops from living up to their “Redeem Team” tag.

With Mr. Brownlee banging in 15 points and his complement doing the hustle plays, boxing outs and what-have-you, the Nationals seized a 44-33 tear after two quarters.

The Filipinos kept their foot firmly on the pedal the rest of the way.

Cambodia opened the fourth with an 8-0 blast to get within 64-59 but CJ Perez and Mr. Brownlee sank back-to-back treys from the top of the key to restore a 76-64 cushion.

“I know a lot of people doubted this team after the first loss (to Cambodia). But the first words in the dugout I said after that loss was ‘this was a loss that we could afford,” said Mr. Reyes.

“I thought we needed that loss actually. So we just kept our focus and here we are,” he said. — Olmin Leyba

The Scores:

Philippines 80 — Brownlee 23, Newsome 16, Lassiter 10, Perez 9, Standhardinger 9, Ganuelas-Rosser 9,  Lastimosa 4, Tolentino 0, Ross 0, Phillips 0, Amos 0.

Cambodia 69 — Peterson 18, Dorsey 17, Morgan 13, Pridgett 13,   Henderson 6,  Lopes 2, Ravuth 0.   

Quarterscores: 21-22, 44-33, 64-51, 80-69.