by Waylon Galvez
Italy, powered by NBA veterans Marco Belinelli, Danilo Gallinari and Andrea Bargnani, opened a 22-0 lead to start the game, which the two teams are using as part of their preparation for the Olympic Qualifying Tournament (OQT) scheduled July 5 to 10.
June Mar Fajardo scored the first two points for Gilas, but the onslaught of the Italians continued in that opening quarter as they took a commanding 40-7 lead, and 64-23 at halftime break.
Naturalized player Andray Blatche scored a game-high 21 points while adding six rebounds and four assists but committed six turnovers. The national team also got 10 points apiece from Terrence Romeo and Troy Rosario, while Jayson Castro added nine markers.
The 6-foot-10 Gallinari, an eight-year veteran who has played the past five years with the Denver Nuggets, finished with 20 points, while the 6-foot-5 Belinelli, who is with the Charlotte Hornets, added 11 points.
The loss came just a few days after the national team sustained a 103-68 defeat to Turkey in Istanbul. Gilas initially had a nine-day training camp to prepare them for the OQT.
Although the Filipinos are ranked higher at No. 28 by FIBA as compared to Italy at No. 35, the performance of the Italians only showed the level of competition it plays in the world stage.
The two countries and Serbia will host the qualifiers for basketball. Italy will have it in Turin while Serbia holds it in Belgrade. The Manila event will be at the Mall of Asia (MOA) Arena in Pasay City.
With the loss, Gilas Pilipinas will face China in the battle for third place – a rematch of last year’s finals in the FIBA Asia Championship – after the Chinese lost to Canada in the other game.
Even with the setback, Gilas coach Tab Baldwin sees something positive, which he hopes that team can bring when it aims for a win against China – already qualified in the Rio Olympics.
“You played much better in the second half,” said Baldwin as quoted by TV5’s reporter Carlo Pamintuan via Twitter, “because you allowed the offense to work for your talent.”
Pamintuan also quoted Gilas assistant coach Norman Black as saying: “If you don’t want to play physical, you cannot play in the international level.” Gilas is expected to return tomorrow.