MANILA, Philippines – The Gilas Pilipinas Women's team did not make a dent in the FIBA women's Olympic pre-qualifying tournament last week in New Zealand, as they lost all three of their assignments.
They bowed to the host team to start their campaign, 111-54, then absorbed a 114-75 defeat to South Korea. They wrapped up their stint with a 127-49 rout at the hands of China.
Yet for Gilas guard Kelli Hayes, the tournament was not without its benefits.
"Unfortunately, we didn't get wins in New Zealand (while) representing the national team," said the 23-year-old guard.
Hayes was one of two members of the National University (NU) women's team to have played in the tournament, along with Jack Animam.
Animam unfortunately suffered an injury against South Korea, and had to stay in New Zealand for treatment, while the rest of the team returned to Manila. That meant she missed the first game of the UAAP Season 82 women's basketball finals, where the Lady Bulldogs took on University of Santo Tomas (UST).
Fortunately for NU, Hayes was still there, and the Filipino-American player showed what she gained from their experiences in the pre-OQT.
Hayes put up 16 points on 7-of-15 shooting, along with 4 rebounds, 2 steals and an assist in Game 1 last Wednesday. The Lady Bulldogs needed her production to hold on for a 70-65 win over the Golden Tigresses.
"Unfortunately, my shots weren't falling as much in New Zealand, but today they were. So all those shots that I took paid off for today's game," said Hayes, who averaged just 6 points and 3 rebounds per game in the pre-OQT.
"Also, just gaining more experience and leadership. Playing against the best of the best in the world, now playing the best of the best in UAAP, I think I'm well-prepared to lead this team and bring all my teammates together," she added.
With Hayes leading the way, the Lady Bulldogs fended off UST for what is their closest win of the season. It is their 95th win in a row, and another will give them a sixth straight women's basketball crown.
Hayes is ready to step up once again on Saturday when they try to go for the clincher – and they hope Animam would be back by then.
"Regardless of Jack being here or not, it’s still NU basketball. NU is better than just one person on the team," said Hayes. "We all have to contribute, regardless if you’re playing no minutes or 40 minutes."
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