INCHEON Korea—Gilas Pilipinas regained some measure of respect by winning its final game in the 17th Asian Games at the Hwaseong Sports Gymnasium here, throwing its weight on a smaller Mongolian team, 84-68, and making sure to halt the bleeding before calling it a day.
The win, Gilas’ third overall in seven games here, was good for seventh place. But for a team shattered by its inability to deliver on its promise of winning the gold in a tournament where the frustrations outweighed the triumphs, the nationals will gladly take it.
LA Tenorio and Junemar Fajardo led Gilas’ imposing inside-and-out, 1-2 punch, carrying the nationals to a huge fourth-quarter assault that was all they needed to push away the pesky Mongolians, who made it a game in the early goings.
Sloppy plays marked an uneventful first quarter, where the Filipinos trailed the Mongolians, 24-19, and then at 29-25 on a basket by Sergelen Otgonbaatar.
But the Filipinos suddenly woke up from the slumber, with Tenorio hitting a trey and Fajardo asserting himself inside with a layup and a three-point play, to finish the half ahead by 38-30.
Back-to-back triples by Tenorio and Jeff Chan gave Gilas its first sizeable lead at 60-49, but the Mongolians, starring Bilguun Battuvshin (18 points) refused to be pushed around and trimmed the deficit to a manageable level at 55-63, going into the final canto.
Then, it happened.
Gilas finally erupted with a 10-point explosion at the start of the fourth, highlighted by two alley-oop plays by Japeth Aguilar and Gary David – the last one a three-point play that put Gilas ahead by a mile, 73-57.
As if on cue, Ranidel de Ocampo picked up the scoring cudgels from there, hitting two straight baskets, followed by Fajardo’s four-point swing and the nationals tore the game wide open at 82-63, from where the Mongolians never recovered from.
Gilas bowed out of the tournament with wins over India, Kazakhstan and Mongolia, coupled by stinging losses to Iran, Qatar, Korea and China.
Nobody expected the nationals to finish this low, especially after their runner-up feat in the FIBA Asia Championships in Manila last year, and their fine World Cup performance, wherein they ended the Philippines’ 40-year victory drought with a win over Senegal.
But the team, according to Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas executive director Sonny Barrios, is expected to come out stronger.
“Of course, lahat kami malungkot. Pero matagal nang magkakasama ang mga ‘yan, I’m sure they will be fine, the program will be fine because everyone believes in the leadership,” said Barrios, referring to SBP president and the team’s chief benefactor Manny V. Pangilinan.