Not even the tightest of defenses could stop Afril Bernardino from punching in big numbers for the Philippines. —PSC PHOTO.

Not even the tightest of defenses could stop Afril Bernardino from punching in big numbers for the Philippines. —PSC PHOTO

 

How does a team heal a 3×3 heartache?

Dismantling a powerhouse rival in the full-court version of basketball would be a good start.

Afril Bernardino was a woman on a mission, leading Gilas Pilipinas to a 97-81 thumping of regional heavyweight Thailand in the 31st Southeast Asian (SEA) Games women’s basketball tournament on Wednesday at Than Tri Gymnasium in Hanoi, Vietnam.

“I’m just so happy again,” said coach Pat Aquino, who handled the 3×3 squad that got knocked off its throne recently. “[The team] really worked hard and competed at the start. As I said before, let’s just continue what we are doing. There’s no need for changes.”

No need, indeed, especially when Bernardino drops 20 points and grabs 16 rebounds.

Stefanie Berberabe and Trina Guytingco each scored 10 points to give the Nationals all sorts of boost—from momentum to mental—heading into the clash against the hosts this Thursday at 6 p.m.

The defending champions enjoyed leads of as many as 25 points, and managed to draw contributions up and down the roster for the second straight time.

The Thais, who settled for silver in the last edition of the showcase, pulled within 27-25 early in the second frame.

But Fil-Am rookie Berberabe, Chack Cabinbin, Janine Pontejos, and US-based newbie Gabi Bade drained a triple each to widen that gap to 39-27.

Beating Thailand, which dominated women’s basketball in the region until it was unseated by the Filipinos in 2019, was a crucial step toward the Gilas women retaining their crown. The SEA Games format is just a single round-robin with the team having the best record taking the gold.

Ready for Vietnam

But Aquino isn’t looking that far ahead just yet.

“I always say let’s take it one game at a time,” Aquino said. “We are going to be ready [for] Vietnam [on Thursday]. We will prepare harder. I know it’s going to be difficult against the host country. But we will do our very best.”

Berberabe, a product of Westmont College in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, had 10 points, five rebounds, three assists and two steals while Katrina Guytingco chipped in 10 points. Cabinbin, Clare Castro and Bade each had nine points.

The Philippines met little resistance in the men’s side as expected, picking apart Singapore, 88-37, to stay perfect after three outings.

Roger Pogoy starred for the Nationals, turning in a team-high 19 points and three steals.

Francis Lopez turned in another performance worthy of a highlight reel. The teen finished with 18 points on a perfect 7-for-7 shooting from the field.

The defending champions are now priming for a showdown against the hosts on Thursday.

The Gilas men play Vietnam at 8 p.m., right after the women’s clash against the hosts at 6 p.m.

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