After Korea defeated Japan (81-68) for a quarterfinal spot at the FIBA Asia Cup 2017, almost every local news outlet managed to dig up ghosts of the past in time for the qualifier's upcoming match against the Philippines.
Gilas Pilipinas, which swept Group B (China, Iraq and, Qatar), suddenly appeared to be the underdogs.
Everyone seems to be carried away by this supposed "rivalry," when all that matters really is which team is more equipped to beat the other. And judging by how the previous games of both teams have panned out, our players seem to have the advantage over the Koreans.
The Chot Reyes-helmed squad has put up one of the best offenses in the FIBA Asia Cup, with 86.7 points per game, good for third overall behind Australia and Iran, with Korea being a close 5th with 84.8. This scoring mark is due to to Gilas converting a tournament-best 12.3 three-point shots per game.
Before a subpar third outing, Terrence Romeo was virtually unstoppable off the bench (17.7 ppg, 40% 3pt)—and his improved passing (3.7 apg, 2nd in team) has also been a boon for the team. Just when you think it couldn't get any better, Matthew Wright has started heating up (25 pts, 7/12 3pt vs QAT).
A relatively small team is expected to exert extra effort on the other end of the floor to compensate for its physical deficit, and that is what Gilas has been doing collectively. The anchors of this defensive versatility? Veterans Gabe Norwood (1.3 spg, 1.7 bpg) and Japeth Aguilar (2.7 blk). And here we are, still waiting for The Beast to be unleashed.
Initially, the primary concern was the absence of injured June Mar Fajardo and estranged Andray Blatche, but the PH frontcourt has been successful in asserting itself against bigger opposition. Christian Standhardinger has been outhustling everyone (6.5 rpg, leads team), while Raymond Almazan looks like he wants to break the rim every time he touches the ball:
Also, the national team looks so much better without Blatche, who despite his herculean efforts, prevented the team play from developing. Entering the quarterfinals, Gilas is ranked 5th overall in the assists department with 19.7 per game, led by Jayson Castro (5 apg).
The Koreans may still be the better passers, averaging 26.3 dimes in four games for 2nd overall, but it doesn't change the fact that Gilas has turned into a cohesive unit. A fluid offense in which everyone is involved, from Roger Pogoy (5.5 ppg) to Carl Bryan Cruz (8 ppg), has resulted in the whole team brimming with confidence.
This time, we can proudly say we're more than just our overzealous chants. The Philippines boasts of basketball talent that has a legitimate shot at greatness on the world stage, with Korea on the verge of becoming a mere footnote.