Still the gold standard: Gilas crowned SEABA champions

Camille B. Naredo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 18 2017 08:48 PM | Updated as of May 18 2017 11:12 PM

Calvin Abueva and Andray Blatche (background) celebrate after Gilas Pilipinas defeats Indonesia 97-64 to take the gold medal in the Southeast Asian Basketball Association Championship on Thursday. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

MANILA, Philippines – (UPDATED) The Philippines is assured of a spot in the 2017 FIBA Asia Cup after defeating Indonesia, 97-64, in the gold medal game of the Southeast Asian Basketball Association Championship on Thursday night at the Araneta Coliseum.

Gilas Pilipinas, the favorites all throughout the tournament, completed a 6-0 sweep while handing Indonesia its lone loss. Indonesia wound up with a 5-1 win-loss slate.

With the victory, Gilas nabbed the lone ticket available in the region for the FIBA Asia Cup, which will be held in Lebanon on August 10-20.

Andray Blatche came through with 21 points and 10 rebounds, making 7-of-12 attempts from the field including four of his seven triples. Jayson Castro had 14 points, seven boards, and five assists, while June Mar Fajardo contributed 13 markers.

"We invited some of the former Gilas players to the dugout, including Gabe Norwood and Ranidel de Ocampo. I told them, that's part of history, but it was time for this group of Gilas players to write their own history," Gilas Pilipinas coach Chot Reyes said.

"I just reminded the players to play in a way that honors what the previous Gilas teams had started, the kind of culture and tradition that we built."

Reyes had considered Indonesia a team to be reckoned with, thanks to its veteran roster bolstered by naturalized player Jamarr Johnson. Initially, Indonesia lived up to its billing, trailing only by two points, 9-7, after a jumper by Abraham Grahita.

"We knew we were going to be tested," Reyes said. "But I felt we were ready for it."

But no team in the SEABA has had an answer for Andray Blatche, and Indonesia was no exception. He anchored a quick 9-0 burst to push Gilas ahead, 18-7, and his frontcourt partner, Fajardo, picked up the cudgels in the latter part of the opening frame.

Fajardo easily scored on back-to-back lay-ups, Matthew Wright punched in a triple and Jayson Castro knocked down a jumper, as Gilas broke the game open with a stunning 34-14 first quarter.

Scoring drought in the 2nd

The Filipinos went through a scoring drought in the second quarter, with Blatche getting called for two quick fouls then committing a traveling violation. That allowed Indonesia to cut the deficit to 15 points, 36-21, but Gilas quickly restored order thanks to the outside sniping of Blatche and Castro, who lifted the Philippines to a 51-30 halftime lead.

With Gilas Pilipinas comfortably ahead, the one thing that the crowd at the Big Dome wanted to see in the third quarter was for Terrence Romeo to get going. 

Romeo missed all five of his shots in the first half, but knocked down two consecutive three-pointers late in the third period, much to the delight of the partisan crowd. Romeo's buckets pushed Gilas ahead, 75-44, with 1:19 to play in the quarter.

No Gilas game in the SEABA would be complete without a highlight from Japeth Aguilar, and the Ginebra forward provided another slam dunk for the highlight reel as he conspired with Romeo for an alley-oop early in the fourth period that brought the Big Dome fans to their feet.

Aguilar's dunk made it 80-47, but Gilas would then surrender eight unanswered points to Indonesia's Arki Wisnu. Roger Pogoy restored order with a triple, and Troy Rosario and Jio Jalalon came through with back-to-back and-1 plays for an 89-57 advantage.

Another three-pointer by Castro quelled any thoughts of a comeback, as Gilas built a 92-57 advantage with just 3:33 remaining.

"I kept reminding my players that when we go out against the quote-unquote super powers of basketball, hindi rin sila nakakasigurado pag tayo ang kalaban," Reyes said. 

"It's the same thing here. Even if we are heavily favored, hindi tayo nakakasigurado. It's the essence of sport."

Wright and Rosario each scored nine points, while Calvin Abueva tallied 5 points and 8 boards. 

Rebounding edge goes to Gilas

Gilas shot below 50% from the field for the first time in the tournament, making 49% of their shots, and committed 16 turnovers. However, they still had a massive 53-25 advantage on the boards, and assisted on 22 of their 35 baskets.

Wisnu led Indonesia with 11 points, and evergreen point guard Mario Wuysang had 10 markers and five assists. But the celebrated Johnson, who was tasked by his coach to provide energy for Indonesia, mustered only four points on 2-of-6 shooting, and was shut down by Blatche for most of the contest.

Indonesia, as a team, shot only 38% from the field. They did earn the distinction of being the only team to hold Gilas Pilipinas below the century mark in the tournament, but it was not enough as the Filipinos still proved to be the gold standard in the Southeast Asian region.

"I think (other Southeast Asian coaches) put this in a very good context, very good perspective. A lot of them told their teams to relish the opportunity of playing the Philippines, because of our talent and our size," Reyes said.

"But like I said in previous interviews, this is just the same as us coming out and playing the best in the world. When we play the best teams in the world, we also use the opportunity to learn," he added.

Gilas won all of its games in the SEABA Championship comfortably, with an average winning margin of 58.7 points.

This is the eighth time in the tournament's history that the Philippines has won gold, and the fifth time that it has played Indonesia in the final. 

Indonesia holds the distinction of having beaten the Philippines in the final of the 1996 SEABA Championship, its lone title in the regional tournament.

Indonesia settled for silver for the fifth time.

The scores:

PHILIPPINES 97 - Blatche 21, Castro William 14, Fajardo 13, Wright 9, Rosario 9, Aguilar 6, Jalalon 6, Romeo 6, Pogoy 5, Abueva 5, Malicsi 3, Almazan 0.

INDONESIA 64 - Wisnu 11, Wuysang 10, Setipu 8, Grahita 8, Pratama 8, Kurniawan 7, Sitorus 4, Johnson 4, Nugroho 2, Dhyaksa 2, Lakudu 0.

QUARTER SCORES: 34-14, 51-30, 78-47, 97-64

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