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Batang Gilas eyes first win

By Jerome Lagunzad

Already out of title contention, Batang Gilas still aims for the best possible finish as the Nationals take on reigning Africa champion Mali today in the classification round 2018 FIBA Under-17 Basketball World Cup at the Newell’s Old Boys Stadium in Rosario, Argentina.

Tip off is at 1:15 a.m., with the 31st-ranked Nationals still determined like ever before to finally break the ice on their fifth try against the 29th-seeded Malians who are equally raring to make the most of their remaining matches in the classification round from ninth to 16th places.

“Mali is still favored against us but we will give our best against them and try to make an upset,” said Batang Gilas coach Mike Oliver, keeping himself optimistic that the Nationals can do better than their 15th place showing in the 2014 edition held in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

The Nationals, dominated by the second-ranked Canadians, 102-62, in their Last 16 encounter last Thursday, should be motivated enough to pick up the pieces as they pin their hopes anew on towering Ateneo center Kai Sotto, the reigning FIBA Asia U-16 Best Center, and National University big man Carl Tamayo.

Bullpups guard Gerry Abadiano is also drawing raves for his outstanding performances, underlined by his team-high-tying 14.8 points anchored on 47.7 percent on top of 2.0 rebounds and 1.0 assist average per game.

“Nothing surprises us with the way Gerry is playing,” said Oliver. “He’s been living up to our expectation, carrying this team on his shoulders, leading by example by playing solid defense and providing us with a consistent source of offensive production.”

The 7-foot-1 Sotto, considered by many as the next big thing in the Asian region, remains as Batang Gilas’ pillar of strength with an average of 14.8 points, 10.3 rebounds, 2.3 blocks, 1.5 assists and 1.0 steal per game.