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    Baldwin on Gilas chance against France: 'If planets align, we have a shot'

    Jul 4, 2016
    Gilas big men Andray Blatche and June Mar Fajardo will have to stand their ground against France's frontline for the hosts to have a chance in Tuesday's game. Jaime Campos

    GILAS Pilipinas 4.0 is hardly given a chance when it plays the biggest game of its young history in a last-ditch bid to make a return to the Olympic Games.

    Yet Gilas also knows that in sports  as in life, miracles do happen.

    Coach Tab Baldwin is keeping the faith and still likes his team's chances against world No. 5 France when the two teams collide in the main game of the Olympic Qualifying Tournament opener on Tuesday night before a sellout crowd at the Mall of Asia Arena.

    The 9 p.m. match is the biggest cage spectacle to be held in this basketball-crazy nation since Manila hosted the 1978 World Basketball Championship, although not a lot of fans are entertaining the prospects of the Filipinos pulling off an upset over Ls Bleus.

    While hoping for an upset, Baldwin is very much aware of the odds facing the home team.

    “I think we're playing one of the class teams in the tournament, maybe 'the' class team, probably the favorites going in," Baldwin acknowledged on the eve of the all-important game.

    [See Boris Diaw knows Gilas well enough not to take home team lightly]

    For Gilas to have a chance against Tony Parker and Co., Baldwin said the home team needs to be at its best while France must suffer through an off game.

    "We have to play some of our best basketball for an extended period of time. We've got to get a combination of forcing them not to play so well, and hope they will have a little bit of an off day," he said. "If the planets align themselves, then we have a shot."

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    Baldwin knows the Filipino fans will be rooting for Gilas like crazy, but knows a veteran and experienced team like France doesn't crack easily playing before hostile fans.

    "They should be confident. They're a team that has a very strong roster, they have unbelievable experience. They've been on a good run in international basketball the last five, eight years," said the 58-year-old American-New Zealander.

    "We're an upstart, we have some homecourt advantage. But it's not like their players aren't used to playing in big settings, big stadiums, big environments, with big noise. They are," he added.

    France counterpart Vincent Collet, however, still doesn't want the crowd to be a factor in the first game between the two countries since 2014.

    "We have to control that. We want to slow them down as soon as they get the momentum, and we will try to control the pace of the game as well," he said.

    "I think [the crowd] will try hard with much enthusiasm. They will try to elevate the tempo of the game to deny us to play with our physical strength," added Collet.

    [See Parker bares to-do list vs Gilas: 'Start strong, stay aggressive, match hosts' energy']

    A loss against France would line up Gilas in a do-or-die game against New Zealand on Wednesday in its final Group B match for a seat in the knockout semis, assuming the French also beat the Kiwis in their Thursday face-off.

    The top two teams from each group will make the crossover semis, with the winners advancing to the finals to fight  for the lone berth to the Rio Games at stake in the short tournament.

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    Canada, Senegal, and Turkey comprise Group A of the meet.

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    Gilas big men Andray Blatche and June Mar Fajardo will have to stand their ground against France's frontline for the hosts to have a chance in Tuesday's game. Jaime Campos
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