Perlas battles favorites Thailand, Malaysia in span of 24 hours in backbreaking SEAG sked
Perlas Pilipinas faces a daunting schedule in Kuala LUmpur. Jaime Campos

IT has yet to win women’s basketball gold in the Southeast Asian Games, but this early Perlas Pilipinas is already a marked team in the 29th edition of the biennial meet that kicks off this week in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

The Filipina cagebelles found themselves facing a grueling schedule that will have them battling powerhouse teams Thailand and defending champion Malaysia in less than 24 hours midway in the competition proper.

The back-to-back games take place on August 23 when Perlas takes on perennial rival Thailand at 8 p.m. in the final women’s game for the day, then returns to the court against Malaysia at 11:00 a.m. in the first women’s game the following day.

Dioceldo Sy, whose Ever Billena company is the top backer of the women’s team, is himself puzzled by the way the Malaysian SEA Games Organizing Committee has scheduled the games.

Thailand and Malaysia finished 1-2 in the 2015 staging of the meet held in Singapore, and have won all 17 women's basketball gold medals staked so far since 1977.

Coach Pat Aquino is taking everything in stride.

“Mabigat talaga. Halos walang pahinga yun, mentally and physically. Bugbog talaga kami,” he said. “But part of the game 'yan. We just have to be ready at what they’ll give us.”

Aquino recalled a similar incident during last year’s Seaba Championship in Malacca City, Malaysia when Perlas also played back-to-back games opposite the two teams. The Filipinas beat Malaysia, 77-73, and then routed Thailand, 72-52, the following day.

“Medyo mas mahaba ng kaunti' yung rest period in between, pero magkasunod pa rin namin silang kinalaban,” said the Perlas mentor. “We’ll be up to the challenge again this time siguro.”

The Filipina cagebelles are coming off a stint in the Fiba Women’s Asia Cup in Bangalore, India last month, where they went up against the powerhouse teams of the region.

While the team ended up with just a single victory in seven outings, its win over North Korea assured the team of retaining its spot in Level 1 competition.

“It was a great learning experience, which we hope would help us a lot in our bid to win a first ever gold in the SEA Games,” said Aquino.

The team will leave on Friday afternoon for the Malaysian capital via Cebu Pacific.

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