NEW Zealand put an end to Gilas Pilipinas' dream of a return to the Olympics on Wednesday night, hacking out a 89-80 victory behind the torrid scoring of the Webster brothers and a scrappy defense that wore down the Filipinos to the ground.
Corey and Tai Webster took turns shredding the defense of a Gilas side that looked a step too slow after a draining loss to France the night before, then presided over the decisive run that took the life out of the host team and deflated a huge crowd that turned up at the Mall of Asia Arena.
The Websters combined for 48 big points against Gilas.
The Tall Blacks thus joined top-ranked France in the semifinals of this six-nation tournament while relegating Gilas to the sidelines in what was probably the last time an all-pro side represented the Philippines in the international stage.
Beginning next year, a team of amateurs will form a cadet side that will compete in the new home-and-away qualifying format for the 2019 World Cup that clashes with the season schedule of the PBA.
New Zealand and France face off on Thursday for the top seeding in their group.
“I know it hurts for everybody… we just don’t have any answers tonight,” admitted team captain Gabe Norwood after Gilas lost for the second straight time and bowed out of contention.
“We didn’t play our best basketball and that’s on us and it’s something that we have to answer for,” shared coach Tab Baldwin.
The Filipinos fell behind early on and stared at deficits of as many as 13, the last time at 52-39 on a jumper by Corey Webster.
Andray Blatche though, willed Gilas back with his outside snipings. His basket midway through the final quarter had the host threatening at 62-60, rocking the jampacked MOA Arena to its very foundation.
But the Kiwis wouldn’t wilt under extreme pressure as Mika Vukona and Thomas Abercrombie combined for a telling 8-2 run, and soon after, the lead ballooned back to 78-65.
Blatche finished with 30 points – 26 of them in the second half – and seven rebounds to pace Gilas, which also got 13 points from Jayson Castro and 11 apiece from Jeff Chan and June Mar Fajardo.
Tai Jack Webster, the younger of the prolific brothers, led the Tall Blacks with 25 points on 7-of-15 shooting, and 11 rebounds, while Corey added 23 and went 7-of-14 from the field.
“Obviously in the second half, the Philippines made a couple of runs. But we stayed focused,” said New Zealand coach Paul Henare, a former player of Baldwin when he was still coaching the Tall Blacks.
The Filipinos appeared out of sync for most of the opening half in which they committed nine turnovers - or about half of their total in a 93-84 loss to France on opening day.
It's their three-point shooting that somehow kept them in the game, firing 42 percent from downtown on 5 of 12 shooting behind the hot hands of Chan and Castro.
The two-time best point guard of Asia had 11 points at the break including a perfect 3-of-3 from three-point range.
The Tall Blacks leaned on the deadly Webster brothers, Corey and Tai Jack, who accounted for a combined 21 of the team's 38 points in the first half.
New Zealand (89) - Webster T. 25, Webster C. 23, Fotu 17, Abercrombie 13, Vukona 6, Ili 2, Bartlett 2, Loe 1, Anthony 0, Karena 0.
Philippines (80) - Blatche 30, William 13, Chan 11, Fajardo 11, Rosario 7, Romeo 5, Reyes 2, Parks 1, Norwood 0, Pingris 0, Aguilar 0, de Ocampo 0.
Quarterscores: 21-17; 38-31; 60-53; 89-80.