CHANGSHA, China – What difference a month could make.
While it parades exactly the same roster, Tab Baldwin has seen how Japan has improved as a unit from the time it saw action in the Jones Cup a few weeks ago in Chinese Taipei to the Fiba Asia Championship here.
Up against the same team it managed to handle in the annual cage meet, Gilas still remains wary of the Japanese side that it faces to start its second round campaign in the Olympic qualifying tournament on Saturday at the Changsha Social Work Colleges.
Baldwin reminded the Filipinos to forget their 75-60 win over Yuta Tabuse and Co. in the Jones Cup as the Fiba-Asia meet is a different war altogether.
“We’ve got to throw that result out of the window. It doesn’t mean anything,” said Baldwin after practice on Saturday when the tournament took a much needed break.
“I think they’re playing a little bit better now. They’ve got good players, they’ve got good shooters. They’re tough, fast, and they’re well organized.”
The Philippines and Japan are seeded third and fourth, respectively in Group F with similar 1-1 records by the end of their campaign in the first round, making their 4:45 p.m. encounter a crucial one for both teams.
Baldwin said the game against the Japanese is like a do-or-die for Gilas.
“We can’t think of anything other than do-or-die now, really. Technically, it isn’t that (but) we can’t afford to slip any further than we slipped because of the Palestine game,” said the Gilas coach.
The American-New Zealander noted how the 5-foot-9 Tabuse, the former Phoenix Suns guard, has been running the show pretty well for the Japanese.
But he’s actually more concerned about Japan’s one-two punch of Joji Takeuchi and Keijuro Matsui.
Takeuichi for one finished with a double-double of 15 points and 13 rebounds in Japan’s loss to Gilas in the Jones Cup.
“They’re really good players. They’re talented, and they’re tough,” said Baldwin of the two.
"The Japanese, they’re always getting more experience. That group has been together a lot of years, and I expect a very difficult game tomorrow, much more difficult than the Jones Cup.”