A Win For The Ages: Gilas Pilipinas Shock World No. 6 Latvia in FIBA OQT

Justin Brownlee added to his legend by leading Gilas Pilipinas to a historic win over Latvia in the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament.

Unbelievable. Incredible. Stunner. Massive.

The adjectives flew freely on social media in the early hours of Thursday, Manila time, as an entire country stayed up to watch the biggest win by a Philippine men’s basketball team in a FIBA tournament in over 60 years.

Gilas Pilipinas, behind the superb play of Justin Brownlee and Kai Sotto, upset hosts Latvia, 89-80, to win their opening game of the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament in front of a raucous crowd in Riga. To describe this win as “big” is a colossal understatement, given that Latvia are ranked sixth in the world and had the homecourt advantage, and the Philippines hadn’t beaten a European country since nipping Spain, 84-82, in the 1960 Rome Olympics.

What’s even more remarkable was the fact that Gilas led from start to finish, jumping to a quick 8-0 lead and leading by as many as 26 late in the third quarter. Latvia were coming off a 28-point win over Georgia just the night before and looked flat all game long, but Gilas deserves the lion’s share of the credit for this win.

At the forefront was none other than Brownlee, who had a 26-9-9 stat line in 37 minutes of play. Of course, as only Brownlee can, he also hit the biggest shot of the game, a triple that virtually sealed the win after Latvia made a comeback in the fourth period.

Then there was the 7’3″ Sotto, who held his own against Latvia’s more experienced bigs and displayed an aggressiveness around the paint that wasn’t always there in the past. He finished with 18 points on 7-of-10 shooting to go with 8 boards.

“It was a really great game tonight,” Sotto said in the post-game press conference. “We all know how great Latvia is. We really prepared so hard. I think we just came out strong tonight.”

Dwight Ramos (12 points), June Mar Fajardo (11) and Chris Newsome (10) all stepped up as well. Off the bench, CJ Perez and Kevin Quiambao hit big triples, while Carl Tamayo and Japeth Aguilar chipped in as well.

Afterwards, social media was abuzz, led by FIBA itself.

Of course, Tim Cone has to be given his flowers. After leading Gilas to the Asian Games gold medal, the first in 61 years, here he is piloting the Philippines to another historic win. Not only is this the first win over a European country in 64 years, it’s also the first win of the Philippines in an OQT game after going 0-4 in two previous tournaments.

When he was asked if this was one of the best nights in his career, he replied: “Certainly! Anytime you can get to the international arena and have success, that’s a huge feather in your cap. Not just for me, but for all the players and all the people back home. I grew up in the Philippines. I’ve been there my whole life, I went there when I was nine years old. And people know that about me. I’m basically Filipino.”

Cone himself couldn’t believe what Gilas had just accomplished, and was candid and humble enough to admit it.

“I’m totally shocked to be sitting here in front of you guys after winning this basketball game,” he told the media. “This is not something we thought we were gonna do. I’ll be honest with you. We wanted to come in and compete and really put on a good show. We got started early, we hit shots early, and thankfully Latvia missed shots. We got momentum and we never really lost it.”

“Our country is so passionate about basketball,” Cone added. “Everybody knows that by now after the last World Cup. We are so passionate about the game. So for us to have success on the world stage, it really means a lot to what’s going on back home. Because this is what we’ve always wanted.”

The job isn’t done for Gilas, though. They face Georgia on Thursday night with a slot in the semifinals on the line. Gilas can afford to lose and still advance, so long as the margin of defeat is 18 points or lower.

“I really am shocked to be here. But we didn’t come here to win one game. We hopefully can move on and get to the next round and get a chance to maybe play Latvia again in the finals.”

Banner Image from FIBA.

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