Still in the hunt
Andray Blatche obliterated any questions on his fitness with another all-around performance. Gilas Pilipinas is hoping he can help eliminate obstacles that stand in the way of the team’s World Cup bid.
With basketball fans in the country fighting off sleep to watch the game live on TV early Friday morning, Blatche came up with 17 points, 15 rebounds, seven assists, two steals and two blocks as the Philippines swamped Qatar, 84-46, in Doha.
The victory kept the Philippines in the hunt for a World Cup berth in the ongoing Fiba Asia qualifiers, but the road to the China tournament continues to be challenging.
Japan defeated Iran, 97-89, meaning Gilas Pilipinas still has to win against Kazakhstan in an expectedly chilly road game and hope other results, especially from the other group, goes its way.
Blatche’s performance against Qatar, however, gives the Philippines a lot of hope—at least with the things still within its control.
“I feel great,” Blatche told the official Fiba website. “I almost had a triple-double but it comes from having great teammates. I just felt good being able to play my game again and help my team out.”
“Andray just created a lot of opportunities for us, both on offense and defense. He changed the whole team and the guys just felt good playing with him,” said national coach Yeng Guiao.
Blatche had missed four qualifying games and there were questions about his fitness and availability. The Philippines went 1-3 in that stretch. But Blatche was available on Friday, and he seemed in pretty good shape.
“I’ve been with this team for many years,” Blatche told the Fiba website. “Travelled the world with them, competed with them against a lot of countries. There’s no bigger plus than getting to play with this team, creating family and bonds with so many people. It’s just a great opportunity for me.”
“He’s the team teacher,” Guiao
said in the Fiba report. “He helped us out offensively and defensively. He controlled the momentum. He controlled the situations of the game. He draws a lot of attention from the
defense which creates the opening. That’s why we shot a lot of three point shots. We got the good looks and the openings.”
“I guess his game just speaks for himself,” Guiao added.
The win over Qatar could have been doubly sweet if Iran had managed to end Japan’s hot tournament streak.
But the Japanese were in no mood to be cooperative.
Hot right off the gates, Japan notched its seventh straight win in the qualifiers as Nick Fazekas pumped in 26 points and eight boards while Makoto Hiejima collected 24 points.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.