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Great Fiba Asia start for long shot Gilas

It was a memorable week for Philippine basketball as long shot Gilas Pilipinas grabbed the spotlight with an impressive conquest of powerhouse and defending champion China in the eliminations of the 2017 Fiba Asia Cup in Beirut, Lebanon.

Minus its two biggest stars, Gilas still humbled the Chinese, 96-87, last Wednesday before sustaining its momentum with a rout of roughhousing Iraq, 84-68, Saturday to secure an automatic quarterfinal slot as the top qualifier from Group B.

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The Filipinos were playing winless Qatar in a game scheduled late last night and even a monumental upset, which seemed unlikely, won’t derail their quarterfinal bid with ties to be decided by the winner-over-the-other rule.

Qatar earlier took a 75-66 decision from Iraq in its first game before getting overwhelmed by China, 92-67. And while Qatar owns a win over Gilas and coach Chot Reyes in the 2014 Asian Games in Incheon, that only serves as added motivation for the Filipinos, who have turned from huge underdogs into strong title prospects this time.

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Beaten, 78-67, by host China in the title change in Changsa two years ago, the Filipinos were given only scant hopes of surviving their rematch with the Chinese with naturalized player Andray Blatche and 6-foot-10 star center June Mar Fajardo out of their lineup.

Blatche, a 6-11 NBA veteran who powered Gilas to the SEABA championship that served as Fiba Asia qualifier several months ago, begged off this time due to safety concerns in Lebanon. Then Fajardo suffered a right calf injury and was ruled out for the tournament that ends on Aug. 20.

But what they lacked in height, the Filipinos again compensated for with big fighting hearts as Japeth Aguilar, Raymond Almazan and rookie Fil-German Chris Standhardinger, all under 6-10, fiercely battled the Chinese, who boast a couple of seven footers, off both boards while their teammates sizzled on the offensive end.

The Filipinos swept to a 10-point lead after the first quarter and led by as many as 17 in the second period before the Chinese rallied and eventually forged ahead at 87-84 in the last quarter.

But Terrence Romeo, the dribbling wizard of GlobalPort with a deadly shooting touch, came to Gilas’ rescue, firing two triples in between a layup to spark a 10-point rampage that set the final score. Romeo finished with a game-high 26 points, scoring all but six of Gilas’ 20 points in the last period.

Romeo was again on fire against Iraq while joining hands with Standhardinger, who redeemed himself from a lousy performance that earned him the ire of coach Chot Reyes in a Jones Cup game against Iraq that Gilas won, 84-75, last month.

This time, Standhardinger broke a 35-35 count with a seven-point spree which Romeo later matched and the scoring burst did not stop until Gilas had swept into the lead for good at 56-35. Romeo again paced Gilas with 17, just a point over Standhardinger, who will later reinforce another Gilas team in the Southeast Asian Games in Kuala Lumpur this weekend.

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Gilas will next meet the winner of the Japan-South Korea game Wednesday in the quarterfinals where Iran, Australia and New Zealand have also qualified. A quarterfinal win would likely send the Filipinos against Iran in the semifinals.

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TAGS: 2017 Fiba Asia Cup, Basketball, Gilas Pilipinas
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