SEA Games: Philippines clinches historic gold in women’s basketball
MANILA, Philippines–An outspoken Jack Animam was at a loss for words as she tried to describe what had just transpired, struggling to hold back tears at the same time.
And when she did cry, it was out of pure bliss as the Philippines finally fulfilled its promise and delivered a historic women’s basketball gold medal in the Southeast Asian Games Tuesday night. after a 91-71 triumph over perennial titlist Thailand.
The win the coach of the National cagebelles said was a just reward for all their hard work and one which Pat Aquino hoped would give his wards the proper recognition from this country they deserve.
“I am just so happy for the girls, they poured their hearts and souls preparing for this moment,” an emotional Aquino told the Inquirer. “I hope this win–which is historic–gives them the recognition they deserve, that basketball in the Philippines is not only about the Gilas men.”
In front of an animated crowd at Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay, the Filipinos lost an early 11-point lead but came out of the halftime break with all guns cocked and firing as Afril Bernardino dished out another fine all-around game that complemented Animam’s 21 points and two blocks.
Janine Pontejos added 16 points, 13 coming in the first half, while Bernardino, who came off a herculean effort in the grueling semifinal win over two-time defending champion Malaysia on Sunday, finished with 10 points, 14 rebounds and two blocks.
“We’ve been dOing this since 2015 and now we won the gold,” said Aquino, who took over the squad in 2015.
Animam was near-perfect performance as she spearheaded that big third quarter surge Gilas blew the game wide open after trailing by two at halftime.
“Coming into this game, we were all just super excited because this is the game that will determine if we’re going to win the gold or not. For the past two SEA Games we were always one win away from gold and now we finally have it,” Animam said. “I’ve been dreaming of this and now that we won the gold I feel like I’m still dreaming.”
Facing the equally talented Thais, who were also undefeated heading into the gold medal match, it was the Filipino cagebelles desire and heart that made the difference.
“Our past two SEA Games have been heartbreaking. But now is our time and we grabbed it,” said the 5-foot-8 Bernardino.
The win ended years and years of heartbreak in the event, counting that one in 2011 where the Filipinos had a two-point lead with under two seconds left only to lose by one to the Thais in the gold medal match.
Team Philippines scored 23 points in the third and held the Thais, silver medalists in 2017 in Kuala Lumpur behind the Malaysians, to just eight points.
Tiffany Bias, a Women’s National Basketball Association veteran, led the Thais with 15 points and four assists. Three others scored in twin digits for the enemy, whose men counterparts were playing the powerhouse Filipino men at press time also for the gold.
“Even coach Tim (Cone of the Gilas men) said it, that our girls should be recognized by this country for their efforts,” Aquino went on.