A DAY after a demoralizing semifinal loss to Iran, Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas head Manny Pangilinan propped up the spirits of Smart Gilas Pilipinas 2.0 by riding in the bus with the team on the way to the Ota Gymnasium in the outskirts of Tokyo.
If only the tycoon’s golden touch had rubbed off on the players as well.
The awful shooting that had been the bane for Smart Gilas in the Fiba Asia Cup once again manifested itself on Saturday as the Filipinos ended their campaign on a low note, dropping a 63-79 decision to Qatar in the battle for third place.
A Gilas team that went 22-for-95 from three-point distance in the games that mattered against China, Lebanon, Taipei and Iran kept shooting bricks against the Qataris, going 2-of-18 from beyond the arc.
In fact, the team missed all but one of its first 17 three-point shots against Iran before top gunner Gary David made his first trey with under three minutes left in the match. By then, the Qataris had put the game away, 73-56.
Typifying the team’s struggles was Jeff Chan, the usually reliable hitman from Rain or Shine who missed all 10 shots against Qatar, six of them from beyond the arc. He became so hesitant to throw up shots later that he ended up turning the ball over three times.
“We didn’t lack the effort; we just couldn’t score,” said Gilas coach Chot Reyes, echoing a line that by now has become a familiar refrain in the tournament. “Bottom line is, even if we played great defense, we still have to make baskets.”
Reyes also pointed out the obvious. “We failed to score at least 70 points in our last two games,” he said.
When the shots wouldn’t fall, the weary Nationals started falling like dominoes. First LA Tenorio pulled his hamstring in an early play and never returned. Then Marcus Douthit emerged from a rebound play clutching a twisted ankle – the same injury suffered later by starting forward Ranidel de Ocampo.
Although Douthit managed to return in the second half, he couldn’t stop the Qatar rampage as the enemy started to find their range from afar.
They ended up making six three-pointers in the final period alone.
No one was more disappointed after the loss than Pangilinan, whose dream to see the Philippines compete again in the world stage was set back not just by the twin losses in the playoffs but also by the failed bid to host next year’s Asian championships.
“What can I say, but try again next time,” he told Manila-based scribes later.
But hours after the loss, a clamor has already taken roots online to have the current team bolstered with new players in the spots where it is weak, with the names of Petron rookie June Mar Fajardo and San Mig gunner James Yap among those floated around.
Fajardo, if he lives up to the hype, should be perfect for the backup role to Douthit while Yap can bolster Gilas’ armada as it builds up for future battles against the likes of China and Iran, which went on to lift the title after a 53-51 win over host Japan.