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Gilas storms past Iraq

Gilas Pilipinas | photo from FIBA.com

Gilas Pilipinas | photo from FIBA.com

by Jonas Terrado

Game Tomorrow (Nouhad Nawfal Sports Complex, Beirut)
9 p.m. – Philippines vs Qatar

Christian Standhardinger and Terrence Romeo led a huge third quarter and Gilas Pilipinas recovered from an early struggle to beat Iraq, 84-68, last night and clinch top spot in Group B of the FIBA Asia Cup at the Nouhad Nawfal Sports Complex in Beirut, Lebanon.

The two combined for 24 points in the third, with Standhardinger igniting a huge breakaway with 11 straight points that allowed Gilas to rediscover the same ferocity unleashed in Wednesday night’s stunning victory over China and notch their second straight victory in the continental tournament.

China’s 92-67 rout of Qatar earlier in the day assured Gilas of the top spot in the group and an outright spot in the quarterfinals, thus avoiding a potential early showdown with Oceania teams Australia or New Zealand in the knockout stages.

Australia and New Zealand are in a good position to earn quick entries to the quarters after winning their first two matches. The Aussies won over Japan, 84-68, before routing Hong Kong, 99-58, while New Zealand walloped Kazakhstan, 70-49, and then edged host Lebanon, 86-82.

Standhardinger continued to impress in the tournament he described as the biggest of his career by posting 16 points and seven rebounds. His 11 consecutive points which came off entry passes and unorthodox shots put Gilas up 42-35 with 6:51 remaining.

Then Romeo produced a sequel to his memorable 26-point showing in the 96-87 win against China by dropping 11 in the third, giving the Filipinos a double-digit lead that left the Iraqis desperately searching for answers.

They found none.

Romeo topscored with 17 points despite a 5-of-15 shooting which can be forgiven after his timely conversions.

Gilas poured it on in the fourth, taking its biggest lead at 24 points, 64-41, on a left-handed slam by Raymond Almazan off an assist by Jio Jalalon with 8:24 remaining in the fourth, thus making its lackluster start an afterthought.

Coach Chot Reyes had sensed the possibility of seeing Gilas play with less urgency following the morale-boosting China upset when he talked to the team during Thursday’s practice.

“Alam natin na malakas ang kalaban kaya we were relaxed and we kept it to ourselves,” Reyes told the team while being filmed by a Sports5 crew.

“But after that big win, baka kung ano na pumasok sa isip natin, just because we had one good game, so the key for (the Iraq game) is to continue keeping that low-key attitude, stay within yourselves and just focus on the things that we need to do.”

Gilas somewhat failed to heed Reyes’ call after tipoff as the rugged Iraqis came out strong behind naturalized player Kevin Galloway, who scored 15 of his 23 points in the first half that saw Iraq leading by five points twice, the last at 29-24.

But Gilas would go into halftime taking a slim 32-31 lead after a late surge led by Romeo and rookie Matthew Wright.