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Batang Gilas completes 4-peat

Batang Gilas used a decisive fourth quarter run to gain momentum and put away pesky Malaysia, 83-62, on the way to retaining the U-16 Southeast Asian Basketball Association (SEABA) Championship yesterday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.

The national team, behind 6-foot-11 Kai Sotto, unleashed a 12-0 blitzkrieg to start the final frame as Batang Gilas cruised on from a 65-52 lead to a more comfortable 77-52 advantage with six minutes to play.

That was all the Filipinos needed to ward off the Malaysians as they coasted to victory and the title with an unblemished 4-0 win-loss record in the five-nation qualifying tournament.

Even before their encounter, the Philippines and Malaysia have already achieved something significant as the two clinched spots to the FIBA Asia this year.

But the bragging rights is a compelling challenge, and winning the championship in front of the hometown crowd made it ‘sweeter’ for Batang Gilas – now the fourth repeat titlist in the tournament that started in 2011.

“Isang malaking experience para sa aming lahat ito. Simula pa lang kami, ang nasa isip namin kami yung pinaka-naghirap,” said Sotto, rookie of the year in the last UAAP season while playing for Ateneo.

“Isang karangalan na maglaro para sa bayan at sa harap ng pamilya at mga kababayan natin, kaya sinulit na namin.

Kahit saan naman gawin (tournament) bigay pa din namin ang best, pero sakto na dito sa Pilipinas,” added the 15-year-old Sotto, son of ex-pro Ervin Sotto.

It was Sotto who led the Philippines’ attack as he finished with a double-double effort 15 points and 12 rebounds with four blocked shots, while guards RC Calimag and Terrence Fortea also scored 15 points apiece.

The national team also got solid contributions from forward Bismarck Lina, who collected 13 points and 10 rebounds, while Raven Cortez had 13 points. Point guard Rence Padrigao scored just five points but collared 11 boards, issued six assists and had two steals.

“Ako naman kung ano ang mako-contribute sa team maski hindi sa offense,” said Padrigao, the 14 year-old playmaker from Ateneo. “Ang importante na-defend natin yung crown. Masarap sa feeling.”

Batang Gilas mentor Mike Oliver said that while it was their defense that led them to victory, they still have to develop it further along with other aspects of their game since the next tournament – the FIBA Asia – will be a lot tougher since they will be up against powerhouse teams from China, Korea, Iran, New Zealand and Australia.

PHILIPPINES 83 – Calimag 15, Fortez 15, Sotto 15, Cortez 13, Lina 13, Guadana 6, Padrigao 5, Pascual 1, Go 0, Lazaro 0.

MALAYSIA 62 – Teoh 19, Yap 8, Wong 8, John 8, Tan E. 7, Jason 5, Kavin 5, Tan C. 3, Lee 0, Chin 0.
Quarters: 22-15; 43-36; 65-52; 83-62.

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