Gilas to bring lessons learned vs Mustangs to Latvia OQT
Published on June 26, 2024

Looking to put to good use lessons learned from a hard-fought 74-64 win over the Taiwan Mustangs in an exhibition Monday at the Philsports Arena, Gilas Pilipinas leaves for Europe Tuesday, June 25, for two more friendlies before tackling more serious business in the FIBA Olympic Qualifiers.

The Philippines, 37th in the FIBA world rankings, takes on No. 24 Turkey on June 27 and No. 15 Poland on June 30, concluding the European sideshow before traveling to Latvia in the Baltic region to face the home team and then Georgia in the group stage of the final qualifying tournament to the Paris Olympics.

Gilas faces No. 6 Latvia on July 4 and No. 23 Georgia on July 5.

While getting past Latvia and Georgia are considered monumental tasks given their NBA-spiced rosters and lofty placings in the global rankings, beating Turkey and Poland remain mountains to climb although they afford Gilas the best opportunity available to measure up its worth against world basketball’s big guns.

The Chris Gavina-coached Mustangs, who paraded a Goliath-like figure in the middle in 7-foot-6 Maltese Samuel Deguara, who dwarfed 6-foot-10 Gilas center June Mar Fajardo, provided the Nationals valuable inputs on how they could go toe-to-toe and set the pace early with Latvia and Georgia.

With layups and drives against 7-foot shot swatters manning the paint nowhere near possible, foremost would be to consistently hit their outside shots, something Dwight Ramos, who went 4 of 5 in threes, did, and which naturalized player Justin Brownlee effectively rode on to transport the packed crowd back to the Asian Games semifinal against China.

Ramos at point might not be as flashy as the injured Scottie Thompson at creating and distributing. But against the Mustangs’ pressure defense, especially against Brownlee, the Japan-based star demonstrated he could be just as effective while being a deadlier threat from beyond the arc.

Gilas coach Tim Cone acknowledged this.

“We’re looking at Dwight to help us out in the back court because he played the wing for us when we had Scottie,” Cone said. “He gives us size and he’s still capable of scoring from that position.

“We don’t play pure point guard system anyway. So we feel Dwight is capable, New [Chris Newsome] is obviously capable, and I’m really pleasantly surprised with CJ [Perez].”

The fast break, which could only be triggered by a good defense that forces a miss or turnover, should be in full gear once one of the Gilas bigs collar the rebound.

Against Taiwan, Gilas had a fairly efficient running game going but it has to be seamless against the Latvians and the Georgians.

What to do with shaky free throws?

At one point, Gilas missed four straight foul shots that stymied the offense and burdened the defense, allowing the Mustangs to ignite transition breaks. Those gift shots, which would be rare and far in between in the OQT and even in the two friendlies, have to fall.

The days of happily posting up smaller players are also definitely over.

At the risk of overextending themselves, Fajardo, Kai Sotto, Japeth Aguilar and the rest of the Gilas frontliners will need their perimeter touch on fire and precision mode, unless they choose to loop lobs and hooks over defenders the length of Deguara or longer.

Then comes the type of defense Gilas would employ against blinding, no-dribble ball movement, perpetual motion, eye-popping shooting and jaw-dropping slams — a pick-your-poison, kind of Catch-22 situation that the coaching staff will have to decide on.

There’s more, but probably most important of all would be the support Brownlee would be getting from his teammates.

Showing his familiarity with Brownlee’s game, Gavina had the Hero at Hangzhou doubled every time he had the ball, frequently by longtime PBA standout and 2018 Gilas player Alex Cabagnot, limiting the Barangay Ginebra import’s offense in the first half and forcing him to play decoy.

Others thankfully stepped up to fill the void offensively, notably Ramos, which allowed Brownlee to demonstrate other less known facets of his arsenal, including his ability to drive and kick and find the open man.

But as prolific as Brownlee is in drawing the defense and setting up open shooters, without his point production and ability to suck the air out of the opposition’s effort to shut him down with timely 3s, like the back-to-back he drilled in front of the Mustangs’ bench in the back-and-forth third quarter, Gilas probably wouldn’t have that much breathing room in the end.

It was just a testament of his immense talent that he eventually wore down Taiwan’s defense and ultimately the Mustangs’ resistance.

For Gilas, much of the theory will be tested against Turkey and Poland. Actual practice takes over then from lab work when Latvia and Georgia come calling.

📸 : Jerome Ascano