Gilas Pilipinas showcased its resilience and depth as they powered past Iran with a convincing 76-65 victory, marking a triumphant start to their Heyuan WUS International Basketball Tournament campaign in China on Thursday, August 3.
Despite missing key players Kai Sotto and Scottie Thompson and lacking a naturalized player, the undermanned Gilas squad exhibited their fighting spirit. The Filipinos initially faced a challenge in the opening quarter, trailing Iran with a score of 21-23.
However, the momentum shifted in the second period when Rhenz Abando’s corner three-pointer ignited the team’s rally. Jamie Malonzo and Dwight Ramos held the fort for Gilas early on, contributing 11 and 10 points, respectively, with Ramos scoring eight points in the opening quarter.
As the game progressed, the rest of the team caught fire, showcasing their diverse strengths. Calvin Oftana delivered 10 points, AJ Edu, the young big man, exhibited his versatility with nine points and nine rebounds, Roger Pogoy and Rhenz Abando contributed eight points each, and CJ Perez came alive near the end of the third quarter, scoring all of his seven points and securing Gilas’ lead at 59-46.
The match’s pivotal moments included Abando’s breakaway dunk following his block, which ignited a turning point as the Philippines surged ahead. June Mar Fajardo’s consecutive baskets and an Edu bucket solidified a 52-41 cushion.
Perez’s 7-point burst towards the end of the period extended the lead to 59-46, a significant gap in withstanding Iran’s attempted comeback.
The triumph came with contributions from across the roster. While Malonzo and Ramos played key roles in the early stages, Edu’s presence was particularly impactful after being sidelined during the European camp due to an ankle injury. Edu’s performance included a sealing dunk in the final moments.
The win over Iran propelled Gilas Pilipinas’ momentum, with the advantage reaching as much as 66-47. The team showcased individual talents and a collective effort that enabled them to secure the victory.
With the FIBA World Cup on the horizon, Gilas Pilipinas continues to navigate challenges, aiming to play with a complete roster. While Sotto and Thompson remained in the Philippines for injury recovery, NBA player Jordan Clarkson is anticipated to join the team soon, despite the potential of missing the pocket tournament in China.
Gilas Pilipinas is set to face Senegal in their next matchup in the three-team tiff on Friday, August 4, at the Jiangman En Ping Sports Gymnasium. The team’s strong start against Iran is a testament to their resilience and determination on the international stage.