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Euphoria in Doha?: Gilas seeks crucial win against Qatar

Gilas Pilipinas 12 against Qatar for the FIBA World Cup qualifiers on Feb. 22, 2019. (SBP photo)

Gilas Pilipinas 12 against Qatar for the FIBA World Cup qualifiers on Feb. 22, 2019. (SBP photo)

By Waylon Galvez

Game Thursday
(Al Gharafa Sports Club Multi Purpose Hall, Doha, Qatar)
7 p.m. – Philippines vs Qatar

DOHA, Qatar – Just like the last time Gilas Pilipinas played Qatar, national team mentor Yeng Guiao expects a wild finish as the Philippines aims for a crucial win in the sixth and last window of the FIBA World Cup qualifiers Thursday evening at the Al Gharafa Sports Club Multi Purpose Hall here.

The national team needed a big fourth quarter run against the host team as it scored a nerve-wrecking 92-81 win last Sept.17, and Guiao said things will be the same in this game.

“Tinalo natin ‘to pero pahirapan ‘to,” said Guiao a day before the Gilas game versus Qatar. (We beat them, but it’s going to be a tough game.)

The game between the Philippines and Qatar is 7 at p.m. Thursday here, Friday midnight in Manila.

The national team is currently at fourth spot with a 5-5 record in Group F behind Australia (9-1), Iran (7-3) and Japan (6-4). At fifth place is Kazakhstan (4-6), while Qatar is at sixth spot (2-8).

A setback to Qatar will give the Philippines a 50-50 chance to make it to this year’s FIBA World Cup in China. Gilas will face Kazakhstan in another crucial encounter in Astana on Sunday.

Guiao said that players are aware of this situation.

“In my talks (to the team), I don’t even try to emphasize the urgency. Sa akin, alam mo naman na e,” said Guiao. (For me they already know.) “It’ll just add unecessarry pressure.”

One thing going for the national team for the two games in this last window of qualifiers is the presence of naturalized player Andray Blatche, who has been added to the roster after serving a three-game suspension handed by FIBA and not being included in the game against Iran last December.

Guiao said that the 6-foot-10 Blatche is adjusting well on and off the court, a good sign when it comes to chemistry and playing under a new system – his system since this is the first time he’ll be coaching Blatche.

“It’s a pleasant surprise for me – since this is the first time that I’m coaching him, and I personally don’t know him – that he genuinely likes his teammates, and his teammates genuinely likes him,” said Guiao.

“The on court chemistry became natural,” said Guiao, adding that the presence of Overseas Filipinos Workers expected to watch the game will somehow give them ‘home court’ feel against the home team.

The national team arrived here in the capital city of Qatar last Saturday and has been preparing for this important encounter since Sunday by doing twice-a-day practice session.

With veteran center Raymond Almazan still recovering from a left sprained ankle sustained during Sunday night’s practice session, and with Roger Pogoy serving his last suspension from a five-game ban imposed by FIBA for his role in a fracas with Australia last year, Guiao said it was a no-brainer to add college star Thirdy Ravena on the roster.

Guiao said that Ravena has been performing well during practice, and he actually has a shot of making the final 12, but the injury of Almazan made it “automatic” for the coaching staff to finalize the roster.

“He provides a role for us, he’s defensive stopper. He’s a defensive option on the scorers on the other side. He can also be a threat on offense, but his main role is to defend,” said Guiao.

The other members of the Gilas pool are June Mar Fajardo, Paul Lee, Mark Barroca, Jayson Castro, Scottie Thompson, Poy Erram, Marcio Lassiter, Gabe Norwood, Troy Rosario and Japeth Aguilar.