Without its top point guard and playing on enemy ground, it was always going to be tough for the Philippines.
But a competitive first half against highly-fancied Australia in Melbourne on Thursday gave Gilas a springboard heading into another important Fiba World Cup 2019 Asian Qualifiers this weekend.
Hardly intimidated by the Aussies’ height and heft, the Filipinos provided a stiffer-than-expected challenge against the Boomers before absorbing an 84-68 loss at Margaret Court Arena.
Reigning four-time PBA Most Valuable Player June Mar Fajardo had 16 points on 7-of-11 shooting, but naturalized player Andray Blatche came up with only eight points and seven boards as Gilas absorbed its first loss in the qualifying stage.
Australia opened the qualifying round with two straight wins over Chinese-Taipei and Japan by an average of 31 points. It didn’t help that Gilas missed top scorer Jayson Castro due to an ankle injury.
That hardly mattered in the opening minutes as an aggressive Gilas start left the hosts reeling in the first 17 minutes, where the Filipinos even took a 30-25 lead after a one-handed shot by Fajardo inside the paint.
Fajardo’s strong performance, particularly in the first half, augurs well for the Filipinos as they brace for battle against the Japanese this Sunday at Mall of Asia Arena.
Matthew Wright had nine points and RR Pogoy chipped in eight points in just 12 minutes for coach Chot Reyes, who also gave former La Salle center Abu Tratter his first taste of international action. Tratter finished with two points.
The Boomers began pulling away in the second half with Cameron Gliddon doing damage, tallying 16 points on 4-of-6 shooting from beyond the arc. Mitch Creek came up with a double-double of 12 points and 11 rebounds for the Boomers, who dominated the boards, 50-30. Australia also had 16 assists, eight more than Gilas.
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