Do-or-die for Gilas PH vs Balkman, Puerto Rico
SEVILLE, Spain—With its back pushed hard against the wall, Gilas Pilipinas guns for the first of two wins it needs to make the KO stages of the Fiba World Cup here—and that is before it prays that some things go the Filipinos’ way in the last two days of Group B play.
The undersized yet courageous Filipinos battle Puerto Rico and Renaldo Balkman in the 1:30 p.m. contest at Centro Deportivo San Pablo hereWednesday, looking for a win to keep breathing, before hoping that Senegal sees a two-game streak come to a halt against Gilas conqueror Argentina later at 5:30 p.m.
As it is with the Puerto Ricans, this is a must-win game for the Filipinos, who have lost two of their first three games by narrow margins against world powerhouses Croatia and Argentina.
“We’ll go all out to fight in every game, for every possession. We don’t think of must-win games because that will only distract us,” said Gilas coach Chot Reyes, who called for practice in the group’s rest day Tuesday.
“Before the tournament, we knew it’s going to be hard to reach the second round,” he added. “But it’s still wide open. If we win our next two games, we’ll get there as well. But first we have to win this one.”
Balkman, the former Petron import who was banned for life by the PBA for choking teammate Arwind Santos last year, had said that he still has much love for the Philippines but will be going all out to help his country advance.
The reedy 6-foot-6 former New York Knick in the NBA is one of nine healthy men left in the Puerto Rican roster, which already lost Carlos Arroyo and outside shooter Daniel Vasallo to injuries in just its second game.
“I will treat it just like any other game,” Balkman, who is hopeful of a PBA comeback, said.
The Philippines will be coming off its best game thus far after taking World No. 3 Argentina to the limit in an 85-81 loss Monday night.
Reyes got more than Andray Blatche to score heavily, and getting the same against the Puerto Ricans could even install the Filipinos as favorites against their short-handed foes.
Ranidel de Ocampo fired 19 points in his breakout game and two more were in twin digits.
Gabe Norwood had some highlight reel plays against the Argentines, but he will be a defensive anchor for the Filipinos.
The Philippines is playing in the World Cup for the first time in 36 years and hasn’t won a game in four decades.
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