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Justin Brownlee Gilas

Justin Brownlee and Gilas Pilipinas members wave to the crowd after their win over home team Hong Kong in the Fiba Asia Cup qualifiers. –FIBA PHOTO

Sure, Gilas Pilipinas overcame a sluggish start on Thursday night and ran away with a key win to kickstart its grand plan of returning to the Fiba (International Basketball Federation) World Cup in four years.

But the first half of that 94-64 rout of Hong Kong, fashioned out before a crowd made up mostly of overseas Filipino orkers at Tsuen Wan Sports Centre, had national coach Tim Cone longing for more.

And rightly so.

“That’s more of what we want from this team—to create more offense from our defense, not just trying to come up and take quick shots,” he told a pair of reporters on the heels of the Filipino’s opening Asia Cup Qualifiers victory.

“[E]verybody was trying hard, but they were tentative and we were missing shots we should have made. We were a little overextended defensively. We were allowing guys. All the things we weren’t supposed to be doing, we were doing in that first half.”

The Philippines raced to a 9-0 start but found Hong Kong breathing down their necks by the second period. The hosts, at one point, even took the lead before Gilas regained its bearings behind Dwight Ramos’ three big plays that led to a 12-0 run in the third and pretty much put the Nationals back on the driver’s seat for good.

‘Long way to go’

Cone charged that forgettable first half to the team playing its first game, but he was just as swift in admitting that Gilas still has “a long way to go.”

Even after starring with 16 points, seven rebounds, and seven assists, Justin Brownlee felt exactly that about himself.

So did Kai Sotto, the young big man who delivered a double-double of 13 points and 15 rebounds in the absence of June Mar Fajardo and AJ Edu.

“I didn’t expect to come out and play great. I was just trying to get a rhythm,” Brownlee, who served a doping ban after the Philippines’ historic Asiad conquest, said.

“I’m glad we won. But as coach Tim said, this game is more of a test for us,” Sotto pointed out. “We’re the ones who are going to be judged—not the opponent—after this game since we all know we’re the better team.”

A chance to apply tweaks and do better awaits Gilas Pilipinas this Sunday when it hosts Chinese-Taipei at PhilSports Arena in Pasig City. But doing so will be more of a challenge if the Taiwanese performance against the Tall Blacks also Thursday night was an indication.

Chinese-Taipei was neck-and-neck with the Kiwis until they faded in the payoff period, settling for a 89-69 loss at home.

“We heard that Taiwan gave New Zealand a real battle today so they’re going to be a team to reckon with when we come Sunday,” said Cone. “We need to play a lot, lot better than we did tonight.”



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“Taiwan’s going to be more challenging. [But] I think this (experience) will really help us going into that next game. I’m excited to play Taiwan, [as] they’re a better team (than Hong Kong). I’m looking forward to it,” said Sotto.



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