(UPDATED) The Gilas Pilipinas Women retained their place in Division A of FIBA Asia after a sensational 92-81 victory over Chinese-Taipei, Wednesday afternoon at the Sydney Olympic Park Sports Centre.
In their final group round game of the FIBA Women's Asia Cup 2023, the Gilas Women built a lead as big as 14 points, then showed great poise down the stretch in holding off Chinese-Taipei's rally.
Fil-American guard Vanessa de Jesus lived up to her billing, taking over in crunch time en route to a game-high 25 points on 11-of-19 shooting. Jack Animam made all eight of her field goals to finish with 16 points and 15 rebounds, while veteran Afril Bernardino contributed 18 points and 10 rebounds in another heroic outing for the national team.
The hard-earned victory marked the first time that the Gilas Women secured a triumph in the group stage of the competition since they were promoted to Division A in 2015.
It also assured the Gilas Women of their place in the top division, and clinched their spot in the playoffs where they will now play for a spot in the semifinals.
"It's our first time to win in the pool play, and we're just so happy. I think it's time to [prove] that we belong in the FIBA Asia Cup. Hopefully this is not the last, and hopefully we continue winning," an emotional coach Pat Aquino said after the game.
The Gilas Women looked headed for a comfortable win when Bernardino's layup made it 76-62 for the Philippines with 9:11 to play.
But Chinese-Taipei showed great resolve, scoring eight unanswered points to get within six, 76-70, with over six minutes to go. An Animam layup ended the silence for the Gilas Women, but I-Hsiu Cheng's jumper with 5:53 left again made it a six-point game, 78-72.
Chinese-Taipei got within four points, 78-74, off two free throws by Cheng with 4:46 left. It was a close as they got, however: Camille Clarin scored in transition with under four minutes to go, and Animam added a layup in the next possession for an 82-74 spread.
De Jesus took over from there, grabbing a rebound off her own miss for a putback that restored a double-digit advantage. She added two more clutch buckets, including a tough jumper for an 88-76 lead with just 48 seconds to go.
"I'm just happy with what the players did. They never gave up, they started strong, everybody contributed," said Aquino.
Yu-Ting Lin had 21 points, and Cheng and Ya En Han each scored 15 points for Chinese-Taipei.
The Gilas Women will now wait for the second-seeded team in Group A, whom they will play on Friday for a place in the semifinals.
Chinese-Taipei, meanwhile, will play the bottom team in Group A in the relegation game.