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Tight sked a big concern for Perlas

By jerome lagunzad

Perlas Pilipinas coach Patrick Aquino has enough reasons to be optimistic about the Filipina cagers’ chances to finally claim the elusive gold medal in the forthcoming Southeast Asian Games in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

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Aquino, however, could not help but be wary at the same time since the Filipina cagebelles, touted as a genuine force title contender in the regional meet, will have to run the gauntlet, no thanks to the tight – and unfavorable – schedule given to them by event organizers.

“Talagang dadaan tayo as butas ng karayom,” Aquino, 46, said in a phone interview yesterday, already hinting how daunting the task for the Filipinas, the reigning SEABA Championships titlists who also kept their Level 1 status in the combined Asia and Oceania regions last month.

The Philippines will play non-stop for six days – first against against Singapore on Aug. 20 before taking on Indonesia, now handled by a Korean coach according to Aquino, the following day and Myanmar on August 22.

Then the Filipinas will square off with the Thais on August 23 at 8 o’clock in the evening and will have little time to recharge ahead of their 11 a.m. clash on August 24 with the defending champion Malaysians, who will come in with fresher legs following a one-day respite.

Perlas Pilipinas will wind up its preliminary round campaign against lightweight Vietnam on August 25.

“We’re still the underdogs here,” said Aquino, who is also calling the shots for reigning three-time UAAP champion National University. “But we’re having that usual approach: one game at a time. Kailangan andu’n yung focus namin on every game.”

Indeed – if Aquino and the rest of his wards intend to redeem themselves from a fourth-place finish in the 2015 SEAG edition in Singapore during his first year at the helm.

“I think this is the right time for us to get that gold (medal). We’ve been together for the last couple of years. But we will still have to work doubly hard to achieve that goal. May doubts man pero siyempre pipilitin talaga namin,” he stressed.

Expected to lead Perlas’ gold medal campaign are one-time UAAP MVP Afril Bernardino, veteran Allana Lim and NU’s 6-foot-2 center Jack Animam, the lone collegiate standout in the 12-strong unit.