With the national team facing tough odds in the Fiba World Cup Asian qualifiers, coach Yeng Guiao is trying to hang on to every bit of positivity before flying off to two crucial games that will determine if the Philippines will be in the China tournament or not.
Andray Blatche is more fit. The team is getting glued defensively. The Nationals won their final scrimmage before leaving, a 100-82 dismantling of PBA squad Meralco.
“I feel like we’re on 8. By the time we play, we should be around close to 9 or something,” Guiao told reporters on the eve of their departure for Qatar, where they take their first shot at staying alive for a World Cup berth.
The Philippines trails Japan by a game for third place in their group after losing four of its last five qualifying matches. Only the top three teams of each group get outright berths to this year’s tournament.
“At least even without Andray, we’ve seen that the guys are blending well,” he said. “We played good defense today. We’re hoping we can still improve our defense and be able to translate or apply the things that we’ve practiced against Qatar and Kazakhstan.”
RR Pogoy led Gilas with 21 points. He will miss the Qatar game, a penalty for his role in the Philippines-Australia brawl in July last year.
Marcio Lassiter, June Mar Fajardo and Troy Rosario, who chimed in with 14, 13 and 10 respectively, are part of the 14-man pool that Guiao will trim in Qatar.
“We’ll be leaving with 13 guys—including Thirdy [Ravena]. Andray’s the 14th guy,” Guiao said. “RR still can’t play in the first game so we still have to determine one more guy who will sit out.”
Blatche will join Gilas Pilipinas in Qatar and despite having little practice time with the squad, the former NBA standout will make the final cut, with Guiao liking what he has seen in terms of the big man’s fitness.
“I’m happy with the development with Andray Blatche. He came in and he was in a lot better shape than he was when he first came in [last time]. So that’s really the best sign, I think, for us—he’s game ready,” he said.
The Filipinos take on the Qataris first on Feb. 21 at Al Gharafa Sports Club Multipurpose Hall, where Guiao hopes a big population of OFWs will dull the hosts’ home-court edge.
“They’ll be playing in their home court; they’ll be more familiar with their surroundings,” he said. “But the positive thing is we all know that there are lots of Filipinos in the Middle East—in Qatar. So we’re hoping they’ll come and cheer for us, that they’ll back us up, and that they’ll give us some of their energy.”
Three days after the Qatar match, the Philippines will fly to cold Kazakhstan for their last qualifier assignment at Saryarka Velodrome.
Practice continues to be a challenge for Guiao, who has yet to muster a full squad during preparations.
“I don’t think we can be really at a hundred percent since we had a short period of preparation time. But if we make 90 percent, we’ll be OK—and that’s good enough for us to win games.”
“I’m confident, I’m happy with this group of guys. They’ve shown their commitment; they’ve shown their abilities,” Guiao added.
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