The Philippine national men’s basketball team’s hopes of making it to the 2016 Rio Olympic basketball tournament came to an end on Wednesday after it dropped a second straight game, this time to New Zealand, 89-80, in the preliminary round of the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament at the Mall of Asia Arena in Manila, Philippines.
It was a must-win game for the Gilas Pilipinas, which has now been knocked out of the running for the lone Olympic berth up for grabs in this tournament.
Andray Blatche exploded for 30 big points and seven rebounds in a valiant effort for the host country. The former NBA player scored 17 of his team’s 27 points in the fourth quarter, but it was not enough against a tough Kiwi squad that will now join Canada and France in the semifinal round.
Jayson Castro finished with 13 points and three assists while June Mar Fajardo and Jeff Chan both finished with 11.
They were outmatched by a New Zealand team led by the Webster brothers. Tai, the younger of the two, posted 25 points, 11 rebounds and three assists while Corey finished with 23.
Gilas, like in its game against France, got off to another promising start with Chan bombing away from long distance early.
‘The Negros Sniper’ hit two triples in the first quarter while Castro hit one of his own in a strong opening burst that saw the Filipinos lead the Kiwis, 17-15, after four consecutive points from rookie forward Troy Rosario.
Unfortunately for the tournament hosts, their visitors started to get things going near the end, firing off a 9-0 run bridging the first and second periods.
A big three-pointer from Corey Webster early in the second gave New Zealand a 24-17. A second three from Webster gave the Oceania squad its largest lead of the half at nine points, 28-19, a few minutes later.
But Castro then came up huge for the Philippines as he carried the load for his team, scoring the next eight Gilas points, including two big three-pointers. He finished with 11 first half points to pace the Filipinos.
Some big plays from Tai Webster and Fotu, though, ensured that the Tall-Blacks would enter the halftime break ahead, 38-31.
New Zealand tried to blow the game wide open in the third quarter as Fotu bombed away from beyond the arc and the Webster brothers attacked the paint aggressively.
They managed to push their lead to 13 points, 50-37, after a layup from Mika Vukona.
But the Philippines got a huge lift from PBA MVP Fajardo in the quarter. After going scoreless in nearly eight minutes in Gilas’ opening game against France, ‘The Kraken’ came up huge in the third.
Fajardo set the tone with a huge dunk off a Castro assist and made several more big plays including an offensive rebound he converted into a three-point play. He finished with nine points in the third quarter alone.
A late burst from Blatche allowed the Philippines to trim their deficit down to just seven, 60-53, heading into the fourth quarter.
Blatche took over the game for Gilas in the fourth quarter. Despite some big plays from Tai Webster and Thomas Abercrombie for the Kiwis early in the period, the Philippines’ naturalized star made sure Gilas would stay in it.
The former NBA player scored 10 of the Filipinos’ first 12 points, including two three-pointers that helped the hosts manage their deficit, coming to as close as two points and trailing by just five with 4:51 remaining.
But things fell apart for the FIBA Asia runners-up late in the game as they allowed easy transition baskets from Fotu and Tai Webster and a huge dunk from Thomas Abercrombie in an 8-0 run that put them in great position with two and a half minutes left to play.
Blatche hit his fourth three-pointer inside the last two minutes to keep the difference in single digits but the Websters combined to hit seven of eight free throw attempts in the final minute to seal it.
New Zealand (89) – T. Webster 25, C. Webster 23, Fotu 17, Abercrombie 13, Bukona 6, Ili 2, Bartlett 2, Loe 1, Anthony 0, Karena 0.
Gilas Pilipinas (80) – Blatche 30, Castro 13, Fajardo 11, Chan 11, Rosario 7, Romeo 5, Reyes 2, Parks 1, Norwood 0, Pingris 0, Aguilar 0, De Ocampo 0.
Quarterscores: 21-17, 38-31, 60-53, 89-80.