MANILA, Philippines – SMART Gilas Pilipinas head coach Chot Reyes was glad that the national team reeled off two victories in the first window of the 2019 FIBA World Cup qualifiers, even as he admitted that their performance was “less than satisfactory.”
“We’re happy that we pulled off Ws (wins),” Reyes said Monday, after Gilas Pilipinas hacked out a 90-83 victory over visiting Chinese Taipei at the Araneta Coliseum – a triumph that came on the heels of a similarly difficult 77-71 road win over Japan in Tokyo.
“But we all know that we could have played much better,” the coach added.
The team got off to a poor start against Chinese Taipei, trailing 17-3 early before the Gilas second unit came in to boost their cause. Still, it was not until the fourth quarter that the Philippines finally got a cushion, as they struggled with their perimeter and free throw shooting for most of the contest.
Reyes said frankly that he saw their struggles coming.
“I told the players after the game – you play as you practice. We had a terrible practice today, including missing free throws,” the coach bared. “We couldn’t make free throws in practice, and it reflected in the game today.”
“That’s a good lesson to continue to remind us of how important our practice is, that’s No. 1,” Reyes added. “But No. 2, it also drove home the value of having a good bench. We started poorly, but our second unit gave us a lift.”
At the end of the day, however, a win is a win no matter how tough the contest was. Indeed, Reyes was glad that Gilas Pilipinas showed that it has what it takes to come up with victories despite the difficult situations – including an abbreviated preparation time and a short turnaround between games.
“The good thing is, we managed to grind out a win even when we’re not 100%,” he noted.
At the end of the first qualifying window, the Philippines has a 2-0 win-loss record – tied with Australia at the top of Group B in Asia. However, the Australians took the No. 1 spot in the group by virtue of a better winning margin: they won their first two games by an average of 31 points.
These two wins are important, of course, but Reyes doubts they will give the national team any momentum. Because of the new format of the qualifiers, Gilas Pilipinas will now have a two-month break before again competing; they will not see action again until February 2018, when they play Australia on the road and then host Japan at home.
“There won’t be any kind of momentum that’s going to be built,” Reyes said.
“But,” he added, “It arms us with a lot of knowledge about ourselves, hopefully things to work on and to learn. But it also gives Australia a lot of ammunition to prepare for us.”
Australia remains the favorite in the group, given the sheer amount of talent that they have. Reyes admits that beating Australia – especially on the road – is a “really, really tall order” for Gilas Pilipinas.
“Australia is a very, very tough team,” he pointed out. “They’re almost in the Top 10 in the world.”
“But you know, the one thing I’ve learned about this team is never underestimate, never count them out because they just keep fighting. They just keep plugging away,” he added.
“We’ll see what happens. We’ll prepare as best we can against Australia, and we’ll go out, we’ll play our game and we’ll see what happens.”
For now, Reyes wants the Gilas players to rest a bit. The team had an exhausting week – flying to Japan to play, returning home almost immediately, and then needing to rally past a tough Chinese Taipei squad to avoid an embarrassing defeat on their home court.
Australia looms, but the Filipino players do not need to worry about them right now.
“They can go and relax after tonight,” Reyes said. “That’s the first order of business – they have to make sure that they get to rest.”
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