Olympic Dream Ends For Gilas Pilipinas After Loss To Brazil

Gilas picked the worst time to have an off-night as they sputtered to an 11-point loss that eliminated them from the OQT.

The Philippines will have to wait a little longer to end its Olympic basketball drought.

A disastrous third quarter spelled the end of Gilas Pilipinas’ Olympic dreams Saturday night as they bowed to a superior Brazil team, 71-60, in the semifinal of the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Riga, Latvia.

Gilas controlled the first half, even leading by 12 in the second quarter before settling for a 33-27 at halftime. But it was a different story in the second half as Brazil got going behind the playmaking of 41-year-old point guard Marcelinho Huertas, opening the third quarter with a 14-0 run from which Gilas never recovered.

The lead ballooned to as high as 16 points in the fourth before Gilas got it down to a more respectable margin.

Brazil are ranked 12th in the FIBA rankings, and have seven players with NBA experience. That included Huertas, who played for the Los Angeles Lakers in the mid-2010s. Despite his advanced age, he was Brazil’s most important player in the second half and finished with 13 points and seven assists.

“I don’t know what to say,” coach Tim Cone said. “You know, it’s funny, we didn’t expect to be here, but then when we got here, we expected to win. So it’s very painful that we didn’t. Especially after having a half-time lead and coming out and (Brazil) going on a 12-0 or 14-0 run on us, starting the third quarter was painful to watch. There’s a reason Brazil is the 12th-ranked team in the world, and they proved it tonight.

“Huertas hit us, hurt us hard coming off the ball screens and pulling up, doing nice things, and I think we just kind of panicked a little bit. We started doing a lot of one-on-one.”

Gilas forward Dwight Ramos, who scored 13 points, was blunter: “You don’t show up and play your best, and you lose. That’s how good the teams are here, so today we just didn’t play our best, and Brazil beat us.”

Gilas played with just 10 men after Kai Sotto was rule out due to a rib injury suffered against Georgia. His absence told heavily on Gilas’ frontline rotation.

“We don’t want to make excuses, but losing Kai was big for us because it just took away our depth in the front line and forced June Mar Fajardo to have to overplay minutes, and that kind of all mushroomed it right there,” Cone said. “But the bottom line is we just weren’t good enough tonight, and we’ve got to be better.”

Fajardo finished with 10 points and 11 rebounds, but took a personal tournament0high 10 shots.

“We had to overplay our front line. I think more than anything, June Mar got really tired having to battle number 51 (Bruno Caboclo) and number 6 (Cristiano Felicio). Those were two guys who were ganging up on him and rotating on him. It was a tough battle for him being there by himself.”

What’s next?

Despite the disappointing ending, this OQT experience can still be considered a success at some level. No one expected Gilas to shock hosts Latvia, ranked sixth in the world and playing on their homecourt, and push Georgia to the limit. Cone even revealed after the Georgia game that they had to changed their travel plans because they were booked to leave on Friday.

Yet, there’s still that lingering feeling that more can still be done, and merely keeping it close against world powerhouses is not acceptable anymore.

“You know, we’re trying to tell ourselves that almost isn’t good enough. You know, almost winning, almost getting there, almost that. It’s not good enough. We’ve got to find a way to get over the hump and get there, and tonight we didn’t do that.”

Cone hopes to keep this core in place, and hopefully with injured players AJ Edu, Jamie Malonzo and Scottie Thompson rejoining them soon, with the long view of making some noise in the next World Cup in 2027.

“The whole part of bringing this particular program together, which is different from what we had in the (2023) World Cup, is the fact that we’re going to hopefully keep these guys together over the next three to four years, trying to keep them together going into the next World Cup. It’s hard to talk about this right after you lose, but it’s a growth experience for us. It’s kind of like a now-we-know moment.

“Now we know we can compete, so how can we get that next step in which we can get a little bit better and not just compete but win? Then playing these kind of tournaments where you’re playing three games in four days, it just gets harder and harder every game. These are things that we’ll need to adjust to. Like I said, we didn’t expect to be here, but once we’re here, we expect to win.

“It’s an incredible disappointment for us. We’re not going to jump up and down and say, ‘Yay, we did our thing’ and everybody was proud of us. Hopefully that doesn’t get into our mindset.

“We need to keep pushing and moving forward, getting better.”

Banner Image from FIBA.  

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