The Philippines has booked its return ticket to the FIBA Basketball World Cup.
Gilas Pilipinas took care of business with a tense 93-75 victory over Kazakhstan in Astana on Sunday to finish its campaign with a 7-5 record for fourth place in Group F.
An 84-72 loss by Lebanon to South Korea in their Group E assignment sealed the World Cup seat for the Philippines, which is making its second straight trip to the top FIBA tournament after returning to the world stage in the 2014 edition.
But qualifying certainly didn’t come easy for Gilas, which had its hands full against a Kazakhstan squad that was already out of contention. Naturalized center AndrayBlatche was red hot to start the game, scoring 23 points on five three-pointers in the first two quarters, but that was only enough for a 45-40 lead for the Filipino dribblers at the break.
Gilas turned up the defense to start the second half, opening up a 12-point lead at 57-45 early in the third quarter. But Blatche had to sit out midway through the period after picking up his fourth foul and the Philippines up by eight, 59-51.
Instead of folding, however, Gilas maintained its focus as five-time reigning PBA Most Valuable Player June Mar Fajardo ably subbed in for the former NBA player. The Philippines pushed the lead to 15 points, 70-55, behind eight straight points from longtime national team ace Jayson Castro for its biggest lead in the third.
Fajardo held the fort until Blatche returned in the fourth quarter as Gilas found its mark from the outside to hold on to the victory.
Despite foul trouble, Blatche finished with monster numbers of 41 points and 14 rebounds.
The FIBA Basketball World Cup will tip off in several cities in China in August. –JST, GMA News