MANILA, Philippines—Unfamiliar with its opening game opponent, the Philippines needed to fight off Saudi Arabia to a close 78-66 win to kick off its FIBA-Asia Championship campaign Thursday night before an anxious crowd at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City.
Several times, the Nationals, who drew 12 points each from playmaker LA Tenorio and swingman Larry Fonacier, looked on their way to blowing out the lengthy-built Saudis but couldn’t pull away.
“I think the Saudi showed in this game tonight (Thursday) that they deserve to be in this tournament. It was pretty difficult for us coming in blind, not knowing much how the Saudis play,” said Smart Gilas Pilipinas head coach Chot Reyes.
Reyes said the team is familiar with the other participating squads with the exception of Kazakhstan, which the Philippines played against in a tuneup, and Saudi Arabia.
“We go all these teams pretty well. The one that we haven’t really seen was Kazakhstan that’s why we wanted to play them and what we have not seen at all is Saudi Arabia but all the other teams, we have a good idea of how they play,” Reyes, who also said that he wasn’t alarmed but rather disappointed with how his squad performed particularly in the first half, added.
“Not really alarmed so much as disappointed because I felt we had too many turnovers. I think we already had 11 turnovers something in the first half. We were out to a good start and we kind of relaxed.”
Also, in preparation for what Reyes called as “the real battle” against Jordan Friday night, the coaching staff needed to make sure that every player played just enough for the crucial tiff .
“It was also pretty difficult to coach basically coming into this ball game we’re trying to manage tomorrow’s ball game. We wanted to make sure that we didn’t play anyone more than 20 minutes. We wanted to distribute minutes because we need our energy, we need to be fresh and we need to be in our best tomorrow so we’re glad we were able to come out this game with the victory.”
And while most predicted a Gilas romp of Saudi Arabia, Reyes was one of the few who thought differently.
“At the back of my mind, I expected that we will have a difficult time with our first game, so we’re glad this first game is behind us. Our objective is to continue getting better and hopefully we’ll come out tomorrow much better than we did tonight.”
The Nationals broke loose in the fourth quarter as they took a 16-point lead on a rare field goal conversion by the off-form Gary David, who struggled as he missed nine of his 11 attempts from the floor, past the midway point of the final frame.
“Hopefully tomorrow, Gary David finds his touch. He was atrocious from the field tonight and we will need his outside shooting tomorrow (Friday),” Reyes pointed out.
Saudi Arabia, led by Aymam Almuwallad’s 18 points, battled back with a 9-0 run before a June Mar Fajardo putback off a Japeth Aguilar miss followed by an alleyoop basket by Marcus Douthit from de Ocampo, 70-59, restored order for Gilas.
A layup by Gabe Norwood and a left corner triple by Fonacier put the outcome beyond doubt.
Originally posted at 10:36 pm | Thursday, August 1, 2013