SINGLED out by coach Chot Reyes a few days ago for his listless showing, Jason Castro bounced back strong behind a 20-point explosion before going down with an ankle sprain late in a 92-89 Gilas Pilipinas win over Kazakhstan in their exhibition match on Friday at the Smar-Araneta Coliseum.
Jeff Chan also had 20 points for Gilas, including a back-breaking three-pointer off a turnover after Jimmy Alapag hit the go-ahead free throws that allowed the nationals to finish strong against the hard-fighting and highly-physical Kazakhs side in their final tune-up match for the Fiba-Asia championships.
The morale-boosting victory, however, came at a price due to the injury suffered by Castro who went down hard after being fouled in the final 1:36 of the tightly-fought game and spraining his right ankle in the process.
The point guard out of Philippine Christian College was in pain, but went to the bench on his own.
Alapag took over from Castro hitting two charities that gave Gilas the lead, 88-87.
The Nationals then forced a turnover at the other end, leading to the huge Chan triple for a four-point Gilas cushion.
Reyes now hopes Castro’s injury won’t be serious with the Fiba-Asia Men’s Championship just days away.
Castro wasn’t the only casualty for Gilas as Ranidel De Ocampo also sprained his right ankle during the final tune-up game for the Nationals in their build-up for the qualifier of the World Basketball Championship.
“Kapag pumupukpok tayo, they will be prone to injury. We are hoping that their injury isn’t serious. Hopefully, tomorrow we will find out,” said Reyes.
After criticizing the pint-sized Castro for his subpar play against the PBA All-Stars in a 99-87 win during their tune-up Wednesday night, the national head coach was all praises for the the Talk `N Text guard this time around.
“He was the best player out there,” said Reyes of Castro.
Gilas led most of the way, but Kazakhstan ended the first half leading, 53-51, after Anton Ponomarev hit four triples.
Alapag converted a rare four-point play to give the lead back to the Philippines in the third period, 70-68, before taking a 76-70 edge entering the fourth.
But Kazakhstan continued to stalk Gilas as Rustem Murzagaliyev hit a fade-away to give the visitors an 86-84 lead.
The challenge didn’t surprise Reyes, who admitted his coaching staff avoided Kazakhstan during the draw.
“In my books, talagang one of the strongest teams ang Kazakhstan. We always have a hard time against them. That is why iniwasan natin ‘yan sa grouping,” said Reyes.
After a two-game sweep of its tune-up matches, Gilas now looks forward to the real battle ahead as the Fiba-Asia meet is set to come off the wraps on August 1 at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Philippines (92) – Castro 20, Chan 20, Fonacier 14, Alapag 12, Douthit 9, Tenorio 5, Fajardo 5, Aguilar 5, David 2, Norwood 0, Pingris 0, Belga 0, De Ocampo 0.
Kazakhstan (89) – Johnson 17, Ponomarev 16, Klimov 13, Murzagaliyev 12, Yevstigneyev M. 9, Dvirnyy 7, Zhigulin 7, Bondarvoich 6, Yargaliyev 2, Sultanov 0, Yevstigneyev V. 0.
Quarterscores: 26-22; 51-53; 76-70; 92-89.