The normally 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 on Tuesday night after a 91-71 triumph over perennial titlist Thailand, a win which head coach Pat Aquino said was a just reward for all their hard work.
And one that, he hoped, would give his wards the proper recognition 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.”
To no one’s surprise, the Gilas men went on a clinical third quarter run to whip Thailand, 115-81, and notch the gold medal later in the night–sealing a sweep of all basketball events for the country.
The Philippines had earlier won the men’s and women’s divisions in 3×3 basketball.
It was the 13th straight SEA Games championship for the men’s team in 5×5 basketball, underscoring the country’s stature as hoop kings of the region.
June Mar Fajardo, Chris Ross and Matthew Wright led Gilas’ breakaway in the second half where the Thais just couldn’t figure out a way to stop the Philippines’ onslaught.
But the night belonged to the women.
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.”
“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. “Even coach Tim [Cone of the Gilas men] said it, that our girls should be recognized by this country for their efforts,” Aquino added. INQ
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