Gilas Pilipinas overwhelms Chinese Taipei by 53 points
Published on February 26, 2024

Justine Brownlee first shut the window. Kai Sotto then slammed the door.

Halfway through their FIBA Asia Cup Qualifiers match Sunday, Feb. 25, Chinese Taipei, left out in the cold, found out the hard way that the Philippines’ world renowned friendliness does not extend to the playing court.

Especially when facing an opponent standing in the way of an ambitious four-year program aimed at bringing the country back to the Olympics and World Cup stage.

Gilas Pilipinas hung no “Welcome” sign for the Taiwanese at the Philsports Arena in Pasig City, responding instead to the high voltage roar of the full house home crowd in hammering out a commanding 106-53 victory for a two-game sweep of Window 1 of the Qualifiers.

Three days ago at the Tsuen Wan Stadium, Gilas overcame a shaky start to overcome host Hong Kong 94-64 in the opener. There was no early wobble this time.

The dominant win over Chinese Taipei kept the Philippines on equal footing with New Zealand in the four-team Group B with 2-0 win-loss records. The Tall Blacks blasted the Taiwanese 89-69 on the road on Feb. 22, and Hong Kong 88-49 in Auckland on Feb. 25.

Window 2 is in November 2024 with Gilas facing New Zealand on the 21stand Hong Kong on the 24th. Next year, in February, Gilas and Chinese Taipei will have their rematch on the 20th, with Philippines-New Zealand II wrapping up Window 3 action on the 23rd.

Jeddah in Saudi Arabia will be the site of the 2025 FIBA Asia Cup from August 5 to 17, the second time after 1997, when South Korea beat Japan 78-76 in the final in Riyadh, that the Kingdom is hosting the event.

Members of Gilas Pilipinas, meantime, will temporarily go their separate ways, with most players returning to their mother ballclubs for the start of the PBA Philippine Cup on Feb. 28. A couple, including Sotto and Dwight Ramos, will fly back to their respective foreign teams where they serve as imports, while naturalized player Justin Brownlee reportedly is considering a brief stint overseas.

Even Gilas coach Tim Cone and assistant Richard del Rosario, also the PH team manager, will be reporting to their PBA team Barangay Ginebra San Miguel.

The Nationals will then reassemble in time for the bigger mission of qualifying to the 2024 Paris Olympics via the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament starting July 2, where the Philippines is bracketed with world No. 8 Latvia and No. 23 Georgia in Group A of the preliminaries. Seven-time PBA MVP June Mar Fajardo and Cypriot-born AJ Edu sat out Window 1 of the FIBA Asia Cup Qualifiers while recuperating from injuries, but both are expected to be reactivated for the FIBA OQT.

The Gilas-Chinese Taipei game was essentially over with a minute left in the first quarter after Sotto hit the first of two free throws to give the host its first double digit lead 23-13. 

Brownlee, who finished with 26 points, 13 rebounds and 5 steals, accounted for 9 of Gilas’ first 13 points before Sotto (6 of 10 from the field) took over, with a more aggressive and agile performance around the paint that netted him 18 points, 10 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 blocks overall. Calvin Oftana shot 3 of 5 from trey and added 13 points, Ramos (6 of 10) had 12, and Carl Tamayo 11 on 4 of 8 shooting.

The Philippine crushed Chinese Taipei under the boards 57-29 and displayed a defensive ferocity that had the Taiwanese struggling for shots on 21 of 71 shooting (29 percent). Gilas made 43 of 78 field goal attempts (55 percent) and had 30 assists, demonstrating flowing ball movement.

The biggest lead for Gilas was 54 points and 16-0 its longest scoring run. The score was never tied and had but two lead changes. Every aspect of the game was a blowout: 20-2 (points from turnovers), 19-5 (fast break points), 16-6 (second chance points), 64-12 (points in paint) and 35-17 (points from the bench).

Taiwanese star player Liu Cheng was placed in the crosshairs and held down to 5 of 14 from the field (13 points). None of his teammates had more than 8, a testament to the wringer Gilas put them through. 

“I really like the way we worked tonight. We just really worked hard on both sides of the floor and did that throughout the whole game,” said Gilas coach Tim Cone. “I think we have to remember that Chinese Taipei played a top-20 team just three days ago, and they played them all the way to the end.

“We played the same team and these guys just worked their tails off and made them look bad and they’re not that bad. They’re a really talented team. Impressed with the way we continued to work and defend them and gave them a hard time.”

Sotto echoed Cone’s view of the team they had just manhandled.

“Chinese Taipei is not a bad team, but we just came out strong defensively. We played good team defense and then the offense just came in after. Just happy that everybody contributed offensively and defensively. I’m happy everybody enjoyed it,” Sotto said.

The Taiwanese coach, Mao Sen Sang, tipped his cap to Gilas’ performance. But while lauding the host, he also hinted of a potential payback. 

“We really appreciate that the Philippines gave us such a good game tonight. We have been learning a lot of stuff from this game and hope in the next game, we could improve and try to compete with the Philippines again,” Mao said.

Personalities from politics and sports were on hand to watch the game. Among them were former Vice President Jojo Binay, FIBA executive David Crocker, SBP chairman emeritus Manny V. Pangilinan, SBP president Al S. Panlilio, House Deputy Speaker and ABAP president Robbie Puno, PBA chairman Ricky Vargas, PBA commissioner Willie Marcial, former SBP executive director Sonny Barrios, multi-titled PBA coaches Tommy Manotoc and Dante Silverio, Ilocos Norte Gov. Matthew Manotoc, PSC chairman Richard Bachmann, PBA governors Erick Arejola (NorthPort), Atty. Mert Mondragon (Rain or Shine) and Ronald Dulatre (NLEX), and PVL president Ricky Palou.