Another tough test

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Monday, September 1, 2014


MANILA—After two hard-fought games, the Philippine national team takes a rest Tuesday before plunging into action against Puerto Rico at 7:30 p.m. (PHL time) on Wednesday in Group B stage of the 2014 FIBA World Cup at the Palacio Municipal de Deportes San Pablo in Seville, Spain.

The Filipino squad led by naturalized player Andray Blatche and skipper Jimmy Alapag fought bravely against Croatia but fell short, 81-78, during the opening day. It was followed by another setback to the much taller Greece, 82-70, Monday morning.

The team was set to play 2004 Olympic champion and world no. 3 Argentina at press time (11:30 p.m. Monday Manila time).

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Puerto Rico and the Philippines are the only two teams that still need to surge into the win column. The Puerto Ricans lost to Argentina, 98-75, in their opening game and also lost to Senegal, 82-75. The victory was Senegal’s first in the Fiba World Cup since 1998. They lost all five games in 2006 in Japan and they last won a game in the tourney against Korea, 75-72, in the 13th edition in Athens, Greece in 1998.

Expected to lead Puerto Rico’s charges are JJ Barea, the Minnesota Timberwolves starting point guard and Renaldo Balkman, the former Petron Blaze import, who finished with 10 points and 4 rebounds against Argentina.

Both Gilas Pilipinas and Puerto Rico need to win at least two games in the preliminaries to make it to the top four and advance into the round-of-16 phase. The fourth-ranked Group B qualifier will face the No. 1 squad from Group A, which could be host Spain, Serbia or Brazil.

In another development, coach Chot Reyes of the Philippine national men’s basketball team explained his decision not to rest key players when the game against Greece was already out of hands to prepare for the game against Argentina.

Naturalized former Brooklyn Nets player Andray Blatche, in particular, was not rested in preparation for a huge clash against Argentina on Monday. But Reyes said that he could not make that move, which would go against the team’s attitude of never giving up until the final buzzer.

“I kept asking my players, looking in their eyes and even in the last four minutes, last five minutes, we were down 12 or 13 points, my players were saying, ‘Last push, last push,’ including Andray (Blatche) himself,” said Reyes. “That’s just the kind of spirit they have. The spirit we have and the way we play the game, will not allow us to slacken off. That might be a foolish thing, (but) that’s who we are. From the start, we were foolish enough to dream that we could compete with these teams, just be foolish all the way.”

Reyes said he was also considering the phalanx of Filipino fans who came to watch a better game from the Filipino team.

“To be very honest, we were thinking of just really playing a 2-3 zone this whole game against Greece and putting up token resistance but in all conscience, we couldn’t do it, not with all these fans here,” Reyes said. “We wanted to find a way, basically to preserve minutes and guys for Argentina tomorrow. We talked about it, I thought about it long and hard. But in the end, I don’t think I can live with myself if I did that.”

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on September 02, 2014.

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