AS many expected, Gilas Pilipinas reached the quarterfinals of the ongoing Fiba Asia Cup in Lebanon.
But not many thought that the Filipino cagers, without top big men Andray Blatche and June Mar Fajardo, would end up unbeaten on its way to a match against nemesis Korea in the Final Eight on Wednesday.
Fact is, some even believed this was where the buck stops for Gilas, with pre-tournament predictions putting the Philippine squad against an Australian powerhouse team.
But thanks to a stunning upset of China in the opener and gutsy wins over Iraq and Qatar, Gilas took the top spot in the group stages, earned a bye in the quarterfinal playoff, before ending up with a crucial battle against the Koreans.
How has the Chot Reyes-coached squad stayed unscathed so far? With efficient shooting powering the offense and some individual standouts on both ends of the floor.
In fact, some Gilas stars have figured in the Top 10 performers in some of the major statistical categories, a testament to the teamwork the Filipino dribblers have displayed in the tournament so far.
Gilas top scorer Terrence Romeo, who averages 17.7 points a game, is ranked eighth among all scorers in the tournament. But the surprising part is he played the least minutes at 21.6 mins per game off the bench, and is the shortest at 5-foot-10 among the top 10 scorers.
Sharpshooter Matthew Wright continues to be a revelation for hot-shooting Gilas. He’s the ninth best shooter from beyond the arc in the tournament with a 52.4 percent clip. But he’s second behind Iran’s Behnam Yakhchali in three-pointers made and attempted per game as the Phoenix wing makes 3.7-of-7 shots from long range.
In the playmaking department, Jayson Castro has some tough competition, with Hamed Haddadi surprisingly leading the assists department with 8.7 dimes. Guards Mah’d Abdeen of Jordan, Kevin Galloway of Iraq, and Park Chan Hee of Korea also top Castro in the passing stats.
But the reigning back-to-back Asia’s best point guard is still putting up 5 assists a game, good for seventh place — with only Haddadi, Park and Australia forward Brad Newley the only players ahead of him in the assist rankings.
On defense, Japeth Aguilar has set the standard in rim protection with a tournament-best 2.7 blocks a game. Also in the top 10 in swats is Gilas do-it-all forward Gabe Norwood, who ranks sixth with a stunning average of 1.7 blocked shots per outing.
Gilas has been thriving on the boards with some gang rebounding, as three players average over five rebounds a game. But none of the Philippine team’s bigs cracked the top 10 rebounders in the tournament, with only Christian Standhardinger coming close at rank 13 with 6.5 caroms per game.
Standhardinger, though, has been the tournament’s eighth most efficient player, leading Gilas with a player efficiency rating of 18.5.
With seven players averaging at least seven points and four grabbing a minimum of five boards, Gilas will need to sustain its superb collective effort to overcome Korea and keep the surprising run going up to the elusive Asian title.