Team Gilas Pilipinas turned in another rout to make their return trip to the FIBA World Cup.
Andray Blatche was, again, at the forefront of the Philippine attack against Kazakhstan while the local crew chipped in theirs at a crucial juncture of the match to complete the 93-75 demolition at the Republican Velodrome Saryarka in Astana, Kazakshtan last February 24, 2019.
Blatche continued his torrid shooting that started in his previous game against Qatar last Friday.
He pumped 17 points that included five triples to singlehandedly carry the Philippines to a slim 22-21 lead in the opening quarter.
Kazakhstan opened a 5-0 early lead but Blatche poured in all his first quarter points to anchor a 19-6 counter attack to push the Philippines ahead, 19-11. The hosts closed it out with an 11-3 run of their own to end the quarter with the Gilas holding the slimmest of leads, 22-21.
Blatche also had 3 rebounds, an assist, a steal, and a block during his first quarter brilliance.
An exchange of runs ensued in the second with the Philippines dropping a 12-4 attack first only to absorb a 5-14 counter from the Kazakhs to trail, 38-40, 1:46 left before halftime.
That’s when the local crew of Mark Barroca and Paul Lee, who each sank a jumper, and Marcio Lasiter, who drilled in a triple, dropped a 7-0 blast to give the Philippines a 45-40 lead going to the break.
Four more points by Blatche and a jumper by Japeth Aguilar made it 51-40 early in the third.
A see-saw affair ensued in the next five minutes. Then Blatche was forced to the bench as he collected his fourth foul when the count was at 60-51, 3:45 left in the third.
The local crew, however, did more than enough to let the Philippines remain in safe waters.
After Alexandr Zhigulin scored a triple immediately after Blatche went out to cut the Gilas lead to just six, the Gilas veteran duo of Jayson Castro and June Mar Fajardo went berserk from the outside and the post, respectively, to led a 17-9 run in six minutes bridging the third and final quarters that finally broke the back of the Kazakhs.
Castro poured in eight points, including back-to-back triples, while Fajardo chipped in six points and five rebounds.
The Philippines was holding their biggest lead as of that point of the game, a 14 point, 77-63, lead when Blatche reentered the game. He proceeded to jot seven more points to finish his night and set Gilas’ record in the qualifiers at 7-5.
Blatche’s final tally included 41 points, 13 rebounds, 3 assists, 4 steals and 2 blocks.
Castro tallied 13 points and 3 rebounds while Fajardo registered 11 points and 7 rebounds in just over 12 minutes.
Not to be forgotten are Barroca, who mainly put the shackles on the opponents’ naturalized import, Anthony Clemmons, and Lee.
These two men were the only ones who had equal or higher net plus-minus than their final lead for the night. Gilas was up 23 whenever Barroca was on the floor while they were up 18 whenever Lee is on the hardcourt.
While this positive development was in progress, another event taking place simultaneously is also yielding a positive news for the team.
Just as Blatche was thumping on the floor in the fourth after the local crew extend the lead, a torrid run had just been executed by the Koreans, who were up against Group E fourth place candidate Lebanon, to overhaul an early deficit and converted it to a 84-72 victory.
The combined victory of Team Pilipinas and loss of Lebanon, who finished the qualifiers at an even 6-6, assured Gilas a return trip to the World Cup to be held from August 31 – September 15 later this year.
It will be recalled that after the February 22 games were completed, any losses by Japan, Jordan, or Lebanon, combined with a Gilas win, will push Gilas back to the World Cup.
It was a given that Japan should not have any trouble against Qatar. The fact was eventually confirmed sometime midway through game that Japan indeed pummeled Qatar, 96-48.
Jordan, also much in the running for a slot, was ahead much of the time against New Zealand in a game that was scheduled to finish later than that of Gilas. They eventually won 86-80 to also qualify as Group E’s third placer.
It will be the consecutive time that the Philippines will be a participant of the World Cup after they also did it in 2014 edition held in Spain.
The Philippines is assured of a third straight stint as the country is set to be the co-hosts of the 2023 edition, along with Japan and Indonesia.
The Philippines and Japan are assured of automatic slots, similar to the same privilege accorded to China this year, while Indonesia’s qualification is hanging on the adherence of a FIBA strict condition that the country will have to make its national team competitive by 2021.
By: ARMANDO M. BOLISLIS
Photos by fiba.basketball