THE Gilas Pilipinas youth team opened its campaign in the Fiba-Asia Under Championship on a bright note by turning back a tall Kazakhstan squad, 90-88, on Thursday night in Tehran, Iran.
Michael Dela Cruz and Richard Escoto each had 19 points while Andres Desiderio added 10 points for the nationals, who survived Leonid Voronushkin's hot shooting and the big height advantage of the Kazakhs to pull off the win.
“It was a tough game but at least we won it. We’re proud of our boys,” said MVP Sports Foundation head Al Panlilio, who accompanied the team to Iran. “Atleast we were able to shake off some jitters along the way.”
The win comes as a timely confidence boost for the undersized team, which was left without key players from its Seaba-winning lineup led by Kobe Paras either due to conflicts in schedule or academic commitments.
The Filipinos next face Chinese-Taipei, which opened its campaign on Wednesday with an emphatic 109-82 win over the same Kazakh side.
The three nations are bunched in one group and will carry over their records to the second round of the preliminaries where they will be joined by Group C teams Japan, India, and Jordan.
The Filipinos, with an average height of just six feet, surprisingly outrebounded the Kazakhs, 49-48, and shot better from the field at 49 percent.
Voronushkin hit a game-high 28 points behind a 4-of-8 clip from three-point range.
Panlilio said the team obviously needs more games to reach top form since its last competitive games came in the Seaba tournament which the nationals topped in July.
Head coach Jamike Jarin expects a tough battle on Friday night against a quicker Taipei team but expressed confidence in his players, who are out to duplicate if not surpass the fourth-place finish of the Olsen Racela-mentored Philippine team in last year's edition of the tournament.
“They (Chinese-Taipei) are really aggressive on both ends. Pero kaya yun. We will give our best,” Jarin said. “As long as we play hard, I’m sure we gonna play better than last night.”