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Former Gilas Pilipinas mentor Chot Reyes said yesterday that New Zealand is beatable, and that he expects the national team to hurdle the Tall Blacks to make it to the knockout semifinal round in the Manila leg of the Olympic Qualifying Tournament (OQT).

“We expect no less than a semifinal round, that’s the target,” said Reyes when contacted yesterday by Bulletin/Tempo.

“It’s still a tough game for the Philippines, but we have a good chance.”

The national team of coach Tab Baldwin, which is playing France at press time, will face off against the debuting Kiwis at 9 p.m. today at the Mall of Asia (MOA) Arena in Pasay City.

Reyes is familiar on how the Kiwis play since Gilas battled them a few years ago when Gilas 3.0 – under Reyes – had its training camp in New Zealand for the 2013 FIBA Asia Championship here.

“They’re a physical team, they play tough,” said Reyes, who is now president of Media5 and marketing head of TV5.

According to Reyes, the game was so physical that one of the Tall Black players suffered a cut on his lower lip.

“They’re physical, but when you play them physical too, magda-dalawang isip naman din sila e. So that’s the key I think, match their physicality of New Zealand,” said Reyes.

That training camp in New Zealand was a crucial factor for the Reyes-mentored national team, which placed second overall to clinch a spot in the FIBA World Cup in Spain in 2014.

Reyes also said that from the team they faced six years ago, almost half are competing for New Zealand in this OQT, which is slated July 5 to 10 with the winner earning a spot in the Rio Olympics next month.

That physicality, Reyes said, has been the trademark of New Zealand even at that time when Baldwin was its mentor.

Baldwin steered the Tall Blacks to a semifinal stint during the 2002 World Championship (now World Cup).

“They’re been playing that way because they have their roots to rugby, and you know rugby, it’s a very physical sport, banggaan talaga ng bangaan. So ganun din yung basketball team nila,” he said.

The onetime national team mentor also said that the game against the Tall Blacks would be totally different against Les Bleus in terms of the level of competitiveness since France is on a different class.

In the FIBA world ranking, France is at No. 5 while New Zealand is at No. 21. The national team is currently at No. 28 in the world.

“Malayong malayo ang France sa New Zealand,” said Reyes. “In terms of talent, malayo, France is quicker and taller. With that, I think we have a better chance of winning that game against New Zealand.”

“As I’ve said, it will still be tough. New Zealand is a tough team, but if we make the right plays, execute the game plan, it’s possible for the national team to make it to the semifinals,” he added.