CHANGSHA, China – Gilas Pilipinas hopes the third time’s not a charm for Japan.
Twice did the national team under coach Tab Baldwin beat the Japanese this year, including in the preliminary stage of the Fiba-Asia Championship here.
Now that their paths crossed again for the right to advance to the final of the Olympic qualifying tournament, the Gilas mentor said it’s imperative for the Filipinos not to let their guards down despite obviously having the odds on their side.
“In some ways, I think there are positives when you beat a team two times, perhaps they think we got their numbers,” Baldwin explained after Gilas completed its demolition of Lebanon on Thursday night to make the semis for the third time in a row.
“But the reality is, that third time gets really tough because you deal with complacency within your team even if you tried to hammer it to them. It’s a human instinct, a human characteristic.”
The Filipinos first handed the Japanese a beating during this year’s Jones Cup in a game that saw them fight back in the second half before prevailing, 75-60.
They repeated the act in the second round of the preliminary, inflicting Yuta Tabuse and Co. a 73-66 loss despite naturalized player Andray Blatche nursing a sprained right ankle.
Yet despite the success, national team veteran Gabe Norwood acknowledged Japan is a team that is not easy to beat.
“It’s tough to beat any team three times, so we have to narrow down on what we need to really do well (against Japan),” said the high-leaping forward.
Baldwin couldn’t have agreed more.
The Gilas coach is bracing to face a different Japan team in their 9:30 p.m. encounter at the Changshia Social Work Colleges gym especially after watching their opponents destroy fancied Qatar, 81-67, in their own quarterfinal pairing.
“They’re (Japanese) very determined. They’ll be in the final of Fiba Asia now. I would have imagined in the beginning of the tournament they didn’t see themselves there. And if they win one more game they’ll be in the final.
“They’ve already qualified to go to the Olympic Qualification Tournament next year. It’s a great, great success for Japanese basketball.”
But at the same time, the American-New Zealander coach is aware Japan will not be satisfied with what it has accomplished.
“But they’re not looking to that right now. They’re looking at us and they’re trying to figure out what they didn’t do in those first two games that they need to do in this third one to beat us,” Baldwin stressed.