MANILA, Philippines -- Gilas Pilipinas played beyond its years in an impressive 93-61 victory over Thailand on Friday night, in what was the group's first game together since being called up for the November window of the FIBA Asia Cup 2021 qualifying tournament.
Dwight Ramos made all seven of his field goals and all four of his free throws for a perfect night, finishing with 20 points, seven rebounds, and three assists. Justine Baltazar had an impressive international debut with 12 points and six boards, and every player fielded by Coach Jong Uichico scored in the blowout.
For Mike Nieto, they have every reason to be proud of their performance. The Gilas team was filled with fresh graduates and collegiate players, with none of them having played a single second in the PBA.
Yet they pulled away from a Thailand team full of professional players in the second quarter en route to the comfortable win, giving the Philippines a 2-0 record in Group A of the qualifiers.
"We know the fact that we have a very young team," said Nieto after the game. "We're facing a professional team in Thailand, but as Filipinos, we're all fighters."
"Given any circumstance, we'll fight, especially that we're representing the country," he added.
The Filipinos had an average age of 23 years old, with one-time University of the East star Rey Suerte the oldest at just 26. Thailand, meanwhile, had an average age of 28 years old, and were led by veteran Wattana Suttisin who had 10 points and three rebounds in their game.
The lack of preparation and experience were clear in the first quarter when the young Filipinos repeatedly left Thailand open for three-pointers. Nakorn Jaisanuk made them pay, drilling corner triples that kept the game close, 21-19, after the opening period.
But Gilas adjusted in the second period. They held Thailand to just 10 points in the quarter to blow the game open, and the Thais never regained their form.
"We're representing the country, so we want to give honor and glory to the Philippines. That no matter what happens, we'll fight," said Nieto, who scored eight points in the game with two assists and a rebound.
"I think we did that today," he added.
Nieto says they still committed plenty of lapses and have room for improvement. They will look to patch up those holes in time for Monday's return game against Thailand, still at the bubble in Manama, Bahrain where all qualifying games are being held.
"Like I said to the team right after the game, we enjoy this win tonight," he said. "But come tomorrow, we'll look at our mistakes so that we'll be more prepared come the game on the 30th versus Thailand again."
While the Philippines tied idle South Korea at the top of the group, Thailand dropped to 0-3 after losing to Indonesia, 90-76, on Saturday.