THE country’s promotion to Level 1 of the Fiba-Asia Women’s Championship more than made up for the heartaches Perlas Pilipinas had to endure following a Southeast Asian Games campaign that turned out to be a big letdown.
Team captain Ewon Arayi admitted the historic feat in Wuhan, China last week came at a time when the Filipina cagebelles have hardly gotten over their stunning loss in the SEA Games last June where they failed to clinch a podium finish.
The fancied Filipinas, tipped to win the gold medal, managed to finish only at fourth place, their shot at winning the title badly hurt by two huge losses, including one against eventual silver medalist Indonesia.
It marked the first time Perlas failed to make the podium of the SEA Games since finishing runner-up thrice in 2007, 2011, and 2013.
“Nabura na lahat ng sakit ng mga failures nung SEA Games,” Arayi said in a brief interview with Spin.ph.
Coach Patrick Aquino, who took most of the heat for the team following the Singapore tragedy, said the Fiba Asia was the perfect time for Perlas Pilipinas to redeem itself.
“We were already there (SEA Games). Everybody was expecting us to win the gold, then suddenly, biglang nangyari ‘yung di mo inaasahan,” recalled Aquino, whose team defeated eventual gold medalist Malaysia, only for its hopes of winning the championship dashed away with its loss to the Indons.
“Kaya I told the girls, prove them (critics) wrong. You deserve more than these (bashing),” Aquino related to Spin.ph a day after Perlas Pilipinas arrived in the country from the Chinese province.
The Philippines’ campaign in Level 2 of the Fiba Asia actually took off on the wrong foot when it lost to Malaysia on opening day.
Aquino referred to the setback as a ‘wake-up call.’
“I think if we didn’t lose to Malaysia that way, baka nag-overconfident ang team,” he said.
After the Malaysian loss, the Filipina cagebelles no longer dropped a game.
They stunned North Korea in their next match which Aquino referred to as ‘one hell of a game.’ Then came victories over lightweights Sri Lanka and Hongkong.
But Perlas’ stint in the meet was best defined by its gutsy win over a tall and tough Kazakshtan side in overtime, 80-73, after rallying back from the depths of defeat in regulation play.
The victory over Kazakshtan formally clinched for the country the top spot in Level 2 that arranged a match up with India for promotion in Level 1.
“After the Kazakhstan game pa lang nag-iiyakan na lahat. I was really very, very proud with the way the girls played with heart and passion,” said Aquino. “We know India was just a bonus for us.”
Perlas achieved history by beating India, 82-76, for promotion in Fiba Asia Level 1, marking the first time the country made it since the current tournament format.
Afril Bernardino was a big spark for Perlas Pilipinas during the week-long campaign where it finished with a 5-1 record, finishing with an average of 12.5 points per game including a tournament-high 32 against India.
“More on camaraderie sa team, communication, at tiwala sa isa’t isa,” said Arayi, when asked what major change did the team undergone following the SEA Games disaster.
Promotion to Level 1 meant Perlas, backed by Ever Billena headed by long-time patron Dioceldo Sy, will be competing in the 2017 Fiba Asia Women’s Championships in the company of powerhouse teams China, Chinese Taipei, Korea, and Japan, which won this year’s crown.
The top three finishers during the meet are going to earn berths to the Fiba World Cup for womens.
“It’s less recognition compared to Gilas Pilipinas for us, but I guess, the feeling is just the same,” Aquino said.