Gilas Pilipinas caps its Window 5 assignments in FIBA with a bang

GILAS Pilipinas blasted new-look Saudi Arabia, 76-63, yesterday morning (Manila time) in Jeddah to cap its Window 5 assignments in the FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers with a bang and come out of its Middle East road trip unscathed.

Fired up by a big Filipino crowd that virtually transformed the King Abdullah Sports City Arena into a “home” court, the Nationals took care of business against a rival who provided a tougher challenge than the ones they previously routed, 84-46, in Jordan Clarkson’s Manila homecoming back in August.

The 13-point victory in Jeddah came three days after Gilas stamped its class on fancied Jordan in its territory in Amman, 74-66, giving coach Chot Reyes’ crew a perfect 2-0 in the November window.

“They (Saudi) came out and played hard, they came in with a good game plan, and we expected it,” said Mr. Reyes of the Saudis, who paraded a retooled squad under Dutch mentor Johan Raijokkers for the return match.

“We knew the high quality of this team so we mentally prepared ourselves to struggle, especially coming from a tough game in Jordan,” added Mr. Reyes.

The Filipinos started to find their groove in the second quarter, where they stifled Saudi to nine points en route to a six-point separation at the break. They cranked it up some more in the final 20 minutes, seizing a 16-point tear and keeping the home side no closer than eight heading home.

And throughout this run, the roaring OFWs in Jeddah were rallying them on.

“We stayed patient through our early struggles and I think we got a lot of energy from the crowd. They really gave us a huge boost. They wouldn’t allow us to lose until we hit our stride and hit our shots,” said Mr. Reyes. “Then we’re able to use our defense essentially to pull off the victory.”

Without Mr. (Jordan) Clarkson this time around, Gilas turned to a balanced assault to repeat against Saudi.

RR Pogoy and Dwight Ramos shot 13 apiece while Kai Sotto delivered 11 markers, nine rebounds and three assists, CJ Perez netted 10 and reigning PBA MVP Scottie Thompson accounted for nine points, nine boards and three assists.

“In the first half, we were too excited and committed a lot of turnovers,” said Mr. Thompson. “Good thing we recovered in the second half and pulled it off.”

Counting its dispatching of Saudi in the fourth window, the Philippines has now won its last three matches in the qualifiers.

The 2023 World Cup co-hosts ranked third in Group E after this set of games with 13 points on a 5-3 record behind fellow qualified teams Lebanon (15 on 7-1) and New Zealand (14 on 6-2). Jordan sat at No. 4 with 12 points (4-4) ahead of Saudi (10 on 2-6) in the race for a ticket to the global extravaganza.

Gilas will resume its campaign in February in front of home supporters with Justin Brownlee eyed as a possible naturalized player versus Lebanon and Jordan. — Olmin Leyba

The Scores:

Philippines 76 — Ramos 13, Pogoy 13, Sotto 11, Perez 10, Thompson 9, Parks 8, Aguilar 6, Kouame 5, Malonzo 1, Oftana 0, Erram 0, Quiambao 0.

Saudi Arabia 63 — Ma. Almarwani 19, Abdel Gabar 16, Mo. Almarwani 8, Kadi 6, Aljohar 5, Ashoor 4, Shubayli 2, Mohammed 2, Belal 1, Saleh 0, Almuwallad 0, Albargawi 0.

Quarterscores: 16-16, 31-25, 55-45, 76-63.