Gilas women write history with first SEA Games basketball gold

Camille B. Naredo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Dec 10 2019 07:46 PM | Updated as of Dec 10 2019 09:02 PM

Afril Bernardino and the Philippines women's basketball team used a strong start to the second half to beat Thailand 91-71 in the SEA Games final Tuesday. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

The Philippines women's basketball team used a strong start to the second half to beat Thailand 91-71 in the SEA Games final Tuesday. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

MANILA, Philippines—History was made by the Philippine women's basketball team on Tuesday.

For the first time in Southeast Asian Games history, the Philippines ruled the women's basketball competition after the Gilas Pilipinas Women topped Thailand 91-71 in the gold medal game on Tuesday night at the Mall of Asia Arena.

With Jack Animam lording it inside the paint, and Janine Pontejos continuing to find her mark from behind the arc, the Gilas Women overcame the Tiffany Bias-led Thailand for their first ever SEA Games gold medal.

It was a long road to the top for the Filipinas, who missed out on the podium in the past two editions of the SEA Games but finally broke through playing in front of their countrymen.

"Buong taon kami nag-training, twice a day," said Pontejos, who finished with 16 points and 5 assists. "Ito na 'yun. Nakuha na namin ang pinaghirapan namin."

Added head coach Pat Aquino: "I'm just so happy for the girls, for what they achieved. Now, we hope na mapansin niyo na kami." 

"It's been a long time, we've been doing this since 2015, and now the gold is with us, and I'm just so happy," he said.

The Filipinas saved their best effort for the last game of the tournament. They struggled to beat Indonesia and Malaysia in their first two games, but made an immediate statement against the Thais.

With Pontejos hitting from behind the arc, they led by 11 points in the opening frame 18-7. Thailand rallied to come to within one possession, 45-43, at the break. Their 3-point shooting and full court press frustrated the Filipinas, with New York Liberty's Bias pouncing on the Gilas Women's turnovers.

But the Philippines started the third quarter with 7 unanswered points, capped by a booming 3-pointer by Pontejos, to regain control of the game, 52-43. Frances Cabinbin took over from there, breaking down Thailand's defense to drop off passes to Animam inside the paint, before scoring a bucket of her own.

It did not help Thailand's cause that both Bias and Supavadee Kunchuan had to sit out a bulk of the third frame due to fouls.

The Filipinas led by 16, 68-52, at the end of the third quarter after Adamson star Mar Prado scored off a turnover to beat the buzzer.

Kelli Hayes opened the final frame with a layup to make it 70-52, and the Gilas Women refused to let up from there. 

Fittingly, it was Afril Bernardino who capped the win with a bucket in the final 20 seconds, giving her a double-double of 10 points and 14 rebounds along with 5 assists and 2 blocks in the game.

"Naging part ako ng SEA Games since 2015 with coach Pat. Two seasons, sobrang heartbreaking. Ngayon, this is it na 'yung time namin. We grabbed it na talaga," said Bernardino, a three-time UAAP Most Valuable Player with National University.

Animam was unstoppable, scoring 21 points on 9-of-10 shooting. Pontejos had 16 points, and Hayes added 11 points and 3 dimes. The Gilas women shot 48.1% from the field, and had 46 rebounds to Thailand's 39.

Bias, the WNBA player who had powered Thailand to two wins over Indonesia and Malaysia, finished with 15 points but shot only 6-of-17 from the field, and was visibly tired at the end of the game. Kunchuan and Rattiyakorn Udomsuk each scored 12 points.

Thailand settled for the silver, while Indonesia got the bronze after beating 2017 gold medalist Malaysia, 70-59, on Monday.

The Scores:

PHILIPPINES 91 -- Animam 21, Pontejos 16, Hayes 11, Castillo 11, Bernardino 10, Cabinbin 7, Jose 6, Nabalan 5, Prado 2, Castro 2, Tongco 0, Chan 0.

THAILAND 71 -- Bias 15, Kunchuan 12, Udomsuk 12, Yothanan 10, Kaichaiyapoom 5, Maihom 4, Supyen 3, Buapa 3, Klunbut 2, Phromrat 2, Sangmanee 0.

Quarters: 27-20, 45-43, 68-52, 91-71.

For more sports coverage, visit the ABS-CBN Sports website.

2019 SEA Games