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Henry Liao

2014 FIBA World Cup: Close Encounters with Gilas Team Pilipinas

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Gilas Team Pilipinas’ gutsy performance in the 17th FIBA Basketball World Cup in Spain warmed the hearts of hoops fans here and elsewhere.

However, its bittersweet campaign lasted only through the preliminary phase, having dropped the first four of its five assignments against Croatia (81-78 OT), Greece (82-70), Argentina (85-81), and Puerto Rico (77-73) before edging early top-four qualifier Senegal, 81-79, in overtime, to wind up with a 1-4 record and a sixth- and last-place ranking in the tough Group B of the four-group, 24-nation competitions.

Our boys had great winning chances against Croatia, Argentina and Puerto Rico but their lack of mental toughness and shaky decision-making at crunchtime did them in.

Banderang kapos the team seemed throughout – even in the finale against the Senegalese (having blown a 15-point advantage in the third quarter) before pulling off a win in the five-minute extension with accurate free-throw shooting.

The Filipinos also bucked the late disqualification of naturalized player Andray Blatche, who fouled out midway through OT with his fifth double-double in as many appearances. The former Washington Wizard and Brooklyn Net completed his international debut with the Filipinos by averaging 21.2 points – tying Spain’s Pau Gasol for third place in the tournament behind Puerto Rico’s Jose Juan Barea (22.0 ppg) and Argentina’s Luis Scola (21.6 ppg – and pacing the tournament with 13.8 rebounds an outing (ahead of Senegal’s Gorgui Dieng and Iran’s Hamed Haddadi, both of whom owned an 11.4 clip).

Puerto Rico, which also won just once in five appearances, ranked ahead of the Filipinos for fifth spot in Group B by virtue of the winner-over-the-other rule. But the Puerto Ricans, too, were sent home early.

The fifth- and sixth-placers in each group quickly exited from the competition as only the top four finishers advanced to the Round of 16 (or second round) which had a single-elimination format.

Joining the Philippines in the sidelines after the first round were its Asian rivals, the Islamic Republic of Iran and South Korea.

The Iranians, who topped the FIBA Asia Championship last year and in three of the past four years, went 1-4 in Group A with their lone victory (88-73) coming against FIBA Africa Championship runner-up Egypt. The Koreans, currently Asia’s third-best team, placed last in Group D with a 0-5 mark.

Other teams that failed to survive the preliminary round are Egypt, Ukraine, Finland and FIBA Africa titlist Angola.

Team Philippines was a feel-good story with its exciting and entertaining close encounters. But FIBA Africa third-placer Senegal was by far a more impressive feel-good story. The Senegalese qualified for the second round with victories over Puerto Rico (82-75) and Croatia (77-75) for a 2-3 ledger in the same Group B. It marked only the fourth time in World history that an African team made it past the preliminary phase (Angola did it twice before and Nigeria once).

Meanwhile, only three teams remained unblemished after the preliminary phase with identical 5-0 records – reigning World champion United States, back-to-back Olympic silver medalist Spain and wildcard entry but FIBA fifth-ranked Greece.

The Round-of-16 matchups featured A1 Spain vs. B4 Senegal, A2 Brazil vs. B3 Argentina, A3 France vs. B2 Croatia and A4 Serbia vs. B1 Greece in one bracket and C1 United States vs. D4 Mexico, C2 Turkey vs. D3 Australia, C3 Dominican Republic vs. D2 Slovenia and C4 New Zealand vs. D1 Lithuania in the other.

The second-round games with a one-loss-and-you-are-out format will be played on September 6 and 7.

After a rest day on September 8, action resumes with another knockout-type quarterfinal round involving the eight Round-of-16 victors – two games on September 9 and two more on September 10.

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