SINGAPORE – National coach Tab Baldwin said the Gilas cadets turned from boys into men in a close game against Thailand, praising his players for showing composure under the grinding pressure.
Baldwin’s Gilas cadet squad overcame a poor start and a 33-43 halftime deficit to come away with an 80-75 victory over Thailand to reach the finals of the men's basketball competition in the 28th Southeast Asian Games.
The veteran coach said praised the maturity of the Gilas cadets, saying they didn’t wilt under pressure against a Thailand team made up mostly of players from the professional Asean Basketball League (ABL).
“I got nothing but praise on how they handled the pressure,” Baldwin told reporters. “They were down. For young kids, they could have easily have succumbed to that and play like young kids under pressure.
"But in this game, they played like veterans,” added Baldwin.
The concurrent Gilas Pilipinas coach gave credit to Thailand’s defense for making it hard on the heavily favored Philippine quintet.
“We had to make adjustments to their zone. I saw their zone for the first time in their last game against Singapore and I knew that it will give us problems.,” said Baldwin.
"We haven’t practice something like that. Credit to Thailand, they played tough defense. We made adjustments. We had to get penetration from the point and we really felt that we had to limit our turnovers
It was the first time in a long while that the Philippines had to sweat it out in a game in the SEA Games, where it has won the basketball gold medal in all but one of its editions.
Despite the strides Philippine basketball has made over the past years including a stint in the 2014 Fiba World Cup, Baldwin insisted the gap between the country and its Southeast Asian neighbors is closing.
“The ABL teams are improving. These are professional players with months of preparation. This is our cadet team and these are young guys … Because of the ABL, it’s getting closer particularly to the cadet team,” said Baldwin.