by Waylon Galvez
Game Sunday (Veldrome Saryarka, Astana, Kazakhstan)
8:30 p.m. – Philippines vs Kazakhstan
DOHA, Qatar – Gilas Pilipinas mentor Yeng Guiao doesn’t mind finishing fourth in the combined groups of the FIBA World Cup qualifiers in the Asian region as long as the country gets into the global basketball stage in China in September.
Behind a torrent of three-point shots, the Philippines demolished Qatar 84-46 Thursday night at the packed Al Gharafa Sports Club Multi Purpose Hall here to raise its Group F record to 6-5 win-loss.
Andray Blatche collars the rebound and looks upcourt for a transition pass.
Gilas is in the fight for the “fourth-best” team but needs to beat Kazakhstan on Sunday at the Veldrome Saryarka in Astana. The Kazakhs, with fluid ball movement and clutch jumpers, beat Gilas, minus Andray Blatche, last November 92-88 at the Mall of Asia Arena.
“We still control our destiny, things are still in our hands,” said Guiao.
“But it’s not going to be easy because we must beat a very competitive team in Kazakhstan on their home court, and that is going to be tough. We all know it’s not going to be easy.”
At the moment, the national team is in fourth place behind Australia, which already clinched a spot in the FIBA World Cup as it improved to 10-1 by beating Kazakhstan 81-60 last Thursday.
Japan and Iran are now tied for second and third spots at 7-4 after the Japanese stunned the Iranians in Tehran, 97-89.
In Group E, New Zealand leads all teams with a 9-1 card, followed by South Korea (8-2) while China and Lebanon are tied at 6-4, followed by Jordan (5-5).
Regardless of how and where China finishes, it already has qualified to the FIBA World Cup as host, which means New Zealand has made it as well as the No. 1 team in the group.
That leaves Lebanon and Jordan in the race for the third spot in their own group, while the fourth team must have a better record to edge the Philippines from the Asian qualifiers.
Gilas will take an early morning five-hour flight from Doha to Istanbul, Turkey where it will have an eight-hour layover before it takes a six-hour plane ride to the freezing Kazakhstan capital early Saturday where the temperature hovers around -14 degrees centigrade.
Guiao said the team would have one practice session that evening.
Aside from the injury of Raymond Almazan, reigning five-time PBA Most Valuable Player June Mar Fajardo has yet to fully recover from the flu.
Fajardo played just 48 seconds against Qatar.
“We’ll see if June Mar can practice, which depends on his health. Both him and Raymond will be assessed as soon as we land in Astana,” said Guiao, who was ejected late in the game against Qatar for contesting a call.
Andray Blatche made an impressive return to national team roster as he collected 17 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists.
Roger Pogoy also has the green light to join Gilas from suspension but no decision has yet been made on whether alternate amateur Thirdy Ravena, who went 0-of-4 from the field in almost 13 minutes, will keep his spot in the 12-man roster or asked to give it up for Pogoy.
Tags: Andray Blatche , FIBA , FIBA WORLD , FIBA World Cup , FIBA World Cup qualifier , FIBA World Cup qualifiers , Gilas Pilipinas , June Mar Fajardo , Raymond Almazan , Roger Pogoy , Thirdy Ravena , Yeng Guiao