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Henry Liao

LOYZAGA AND RUSSELL:* TWO OF A KIND

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*Carlos (Caloy) Loyzaga is to Philippine basketball what Bill Russell is to the U.S. National Basketball Association.
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Russell went to the NBA Finals well a dozen times during his illustrious pro career and struck water on a league-record 11 occasions.
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Loyzaga, on the other hand, made the Philippines proud in the international arena after collecting a stunning six gold medals in as many Asian competitions (four in the Asian Games and two in the Asian Basketball Confederation, the harbinger of the FIBA Asia Championship) from 1951 to 1963 and securing a bronze during the 1954 Rio de Janeiro World Basketball Championship (which will be renamed FIBA World Cup of Basketball next year in Spain).
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Significantly, the 6-10 Russell and the 6-3 Loyzaga faced each other during the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne, Australia.* In a first-round action, the United States crushed the Philippines, 121-53 (66-23).* The Americans went on to secure the gold medal while the Filipinos, who posted a 4-4 record, settled for seventh place after getting back at their quarterfinal tormentor Chile, 75-68 (33-3.
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Unquestionably, the most memorable international appearance for the multi-dimensional Loyzaga was the 2nd FIBA WBC in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil from October 22 to November 5, 1954.
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In that quadrennial showcase, the Philippines grabbed the bronze medal for the highest finish ever by an Asian country in WBC history.* Only the U.S. (gold) and Brazil (silver) fared better than the Filipinos.
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A dozen countries took part in the two-week competitions.* Seven came from the Americas, three from Europe and a pair from Asia – the Philippines and Formosa (Taiwan/now known as Chinese-Taipei).
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Despite employing a second-rate unit, the Yanks snared the World title with an unblemished 9-0 mark.* They whipped the host Brazilians, 62-41, in the gold-medal encounter.
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The Americans’ lowest winning margin was five points, a 64-59 (30-26) decision over sixth-place Uruguay in the eight-team final round.
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At the time, the U.S. teams to the World Basketball Championship were selected by the U.S. Amateur Athletic Union, which could only tap players from the industrial or commercial leagues, the minor colleges and the American Armed Forces.
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Brazil, which took the silver medal with an 8-1 card, registered a pair of victories over the Philippines during the tournament – 99-63 in the preliminary round and 57-41 in the eight-team final round.
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In the final phase, the Filipinos dropped a 56-43 decision to eventual titlist United States but not before giving the Americans a scare.* Trailing by only three points at the half, 25-22, the courageous PH squad rallied at the start of the second half and even grabbed a 31-26 advantage.
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However, the Americans’ offense got rolling, having scored 23 consecutive points to establish control, 49-31, with three minutes remaining en route to a 13-point triumph.
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Kirby Minter, a 6-6 forward, led the Americans with 15 points.* Loyzaga was one of three Filipinos in double-digit scores with 12 points.* Team captain Lauro (The Fox) Mumar topscored with 14 markers and 6-2 Jose Rizal College hotshot Mariano (Nano) Tolentino chipped in with 11.
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The Philippines wound up with a 6-3 overall record (including 1-1 in the preliminaries) during the tournament.
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It officially clinched the bronze medal with a 66-60 victory over France in the team’s penultimate assignment in the final round, where all eight participants played against each other on a round-robin basis without any playoffs.* Loyzaga collected 20 points against the fourth-ranked French.
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In the final contest against sixth-place Uruguay, the hulking but springy Loyzaga exploded for 33 markers as he propelled the Filipinos to a 67-63 success despite the absence of head coach Herminio Silva, who had called in sick that day.
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Caloy averaged 16.4 points in nine games, the third-highest in the tournament.* Only Uruguay’s Oscar Moglia (18.6 ppg) and Canada’s Carl Ridd (18.2 ppg) registered higher scoring averages.
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Deservedly so, Loyzaga was the lone Asian on the five-man Mythical Team.
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