CHANGSHA, China – Dondon Hontiveros couldn't have picked a better time to snap out of his shooting woes.
The Cebuano gunner played his best game for Gilas Pilipinas in the Fiba Asia Championship on Friday night, torching Japan for 18 points on 6-of-9 shooting from beyond the arc to lead the Filipinos’ march to the championship game of the Olympic qualifying tournament that comes to an end on Saturday.
Hontiveros converted three of his three-pointers in the final quarter alone, including the dagger trey at the final 1:23 mark that finally took the fight out of the resilient Japanese, 77-68.
The Alaska veteran wingman admitted his stroke felt good the moment he took his first shot of the game.
“It felt good when it left my hand, na-miss lang siya. So sabi ko lang, just settle down, and 'yun, nagtuluy-tuloy na nga siya,” said Hontiveros, who proudly wore his yellow University of Cebu Webmasters shirt after the game.
Just thinking about what this Gilas team went through the last two months in order to represent the country in the hope of ending a 43-year Olympic drought was enough to pump him up for the Filipinos’ semifinal encounter against the Japanese.
“Naalala ko lang 'yung mga pinag-hirapan namin. I’m just amazed doon sa mga sacrifices ng team, especially 'yung mga pinakita nila Jayson (Castro) and Andray (Blatche),” he said.
But an even bigger sacrifice awaits Gilas in the final game where it has no less than host China for its opponent.
Already, the signs were there as early as the start of the meet’s knockout stage.
“Sinabi ni coach Tab na ginagawa na nilang lahat,” said Hontiveros, noting how the team’s ride back to the hotel shortly after its quarterfinal game against Lebanon was delayed and the semifinal match against Japan had been moved 30 minutes from its original schedule.
“Yung game namin bukas less than 24 hours after (the semis),” he said. “That’s why sabi nga ni coach Tab (Baldwin) we have to be mentally tough for tomorrow’s game.”
But Hontiveros vowed Gilas will definitely give the Chinese a great fight before their home fans.
“We’ll just make the most out of this opportunity,” Hontiveros said.