The Philippines were able to survive Qatar, despite having a flat start during their closed-door match in the fourth window matchup of the FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers.
Head coach Joseller ‘Yeng’ Guiao must have given Gilas Pilipinas one hell of a pep talk–or a searing tongue lashing–during halftime in the locker room that gave the team a second wind to come back from being down by as many as 17 points.
“Well, the first half was just really bad,” lamented Guiao. “Shooting percentage especially from three-point range, we were at six percent. To think these are the best shooters in the country, that’s really an aberration. It’s like a hangover from our Iran game.”
Guiao’s wards won the game, 92-81, but finished with a horrid 3-for-32 (9.4 percent) shooting from long distance, even worse than their 17.9 percent total in their previous outing against Iran.
“I told them at halftime to just take the normal shots they were taking and don’t mind the percentages. Just be focused on running the sets, executing the game plan. And I think the big difference was they really wanted to win. These guys really wanted to win and they showed that by the kind of defense they did, it’s really a commitment to defend.”
The Qataris actually shot closer to 53 percent in the first half, but the high accuracy of their snipers caught the Filipino players by surprise and deflated them early in the game. Every time the home team tried to make a comeback, Qatar hit them with haymakers from beyond the arc.
“As big as Qatar was, I felt that what really gave them a lift in the first half was their three-point shooting. It was not really their size, it was really their incredible percentage from the three-point line. We scouted them, we knew some of them can shoot, but we did not expect them to shoot 54 percent.”
“Let us just be patient, stick to the game plan. It is almost impossible, if we play good defense, for them to shoot 54 percent from three. We just waited for them to miss those shots and used our speed advantage. We kept running the whole game.”
True enough, the visitors started to simmer down in the second half before finishing the game going 7-for-22 from deep. According to the mercurial coach, having more fresh legs gave them an edge on the defensive end.
“We kept the people inside fresh, and used a lot of our players. We rotated all twelve players and kept everybody fresh so we could put pressure on defense and run on offense.”
Qatar head coach Tim Lewis, who previously coached the Thailand National Basketball Team during the 2017 SEABA Championships in the same arena, ran a tight seven-man rotation throughout most of the game which proved to go in the way of the Filipinos.
“Mentally, everybody was just pushing hard on defense. Everybody who comes off the bench who will not put up the same effort will be ashamed, seeing everyone else working hard. Pure effort on defense in the second half,” said Guiao in mixed Filipino and English.
Playing in a near-empty Araneta Coliseum in Manila as part of the sanctions stemming from the bench-clearing incident in their match against Australia during the last window of the qualifiers, Gilas Pilipinas were essentially in a must-win situation after falling in a close contest to Haddadi-less Iran a few days ago.
“After a while, you get used to it,” said the head coach about the empty home arena. “I also told them before the game, there are a lot of people watching on TV, live stream, or radio, whichever. All of them are praying and supporting us, so just visualize that and imagine that, and maybe that is going to help you put up the effort.”
“In the past, we can’t hear our instructions because of the noise. Now, we can even hear the opponent’s instructions,” Guiao joked.
With this victory, the Philippines improve to 5-3, holding on to the third spot in Group F behind Australia and Iran, and just ahead of Japan at 4-4. The top three countries from each group will qualify for the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup.
The Philippine team take on their next assignment on November 30 when they open the fifth window of the Asian Qualifiers against Kazakhstan in Manila, Philippines.
Follow the author on Twitter at @kicksmvp.