Coach Yeng Guiao talks the Philippine Team and lessons from the international stage

An embattled Gilas Pilipinas will try to go all out for one of 14 remaining World Cup tickets when they play in the sixth and final window of the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup Asian Qualifiers this weekend.

After a disappointing fifth window last December which saw them lost back to back games in their home floor, the Philippines will have to sweep Qatar and Kazakhstan in their last two games to have a fighting chance for the World Cup in China later this year.

At 5-5, Gilas is currently in fourth place in Group F, trailing Australia, Iran, and Japan. Only the top three squads in the two groups will automatically qualify for the World Cup while one more spot is reserved for the best-performing fourth-placer.

Excluding hosts China, Jordan is in fourth place in Group E with an identical 5-5 win-loss slate, behind New Zealand, Korea, and Lebanon. Jordan has a relatively tougher last two games against China and New Zealand. Japan, meanwhile, are scheduled to play Iran and Qatar.

With only three days remaining until Gilas Pilipinas’ critical matchup against Qatar in the 2019 FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifers, the team is close to achieving the cohesion and chemistry that has defined successful iterations of the squad in the past.

And while the team’s offense, especially its on-again and off-again relationship with three-point shooting, is a point of emphasis, the team has zeroed in on its defensive schemes as the most important area the team has to improve on.

Gilas Pilipinas hasn’t forgotten those scary moments. In fact, it has helped them understand their opponents even more heading into this match in Doha. According to Guiao, the team needs to avoid another sloppy start, because of the dangerous nature of their opponent.

“Our start should be good,” Guiao said. ‘We really need to have a good initial start on defense. The reason we got down big in Manila was because our defense was lacking in the first quarter.”

True to form, Gilas erased the double-digit deficit at the half via a third-quarter surge, holding Qatar to only 12 points in the period while scoring 28 of their own. And with the team holding a three-point lead entering the final frame, Gilas was able to cruise to the win by hounding the team’s backcourt into several turnovers, which took them out of their offense. They also held Qatar to 40% from the field, and 31.8% from the three-point line, as the visitors significantly cooled down after their hot start.

Gilas’ defense will also have to clamp down on Qatar’s shooters, which curiously came more from the squad’s frontcourt. Mohd Yousuf Mohmmed, Tanguy Aalban H Ngombo and Nasser Khalifa Al-Rayes all stand 6’5″ and above, and the trio combined to make six triples that were part of Qatar’s first half surge. According to Guiao, they can’t afford to make the same lapses on defense again.

“Their bigs are really the ones who hurt us last time,” Guiao shared. “So we really need to challenge the three-point shooting of the bigs and we need to be able to pressure their guards in bringing the ball down court. So it should really be a defensive effort.”

As Gilas plunges deeper into preparations for Qatar, more and more the holes in their games are being patched up in preparation for what should be a big performance on Thursday evening in Doha. Slowly but surely, pieces of the puzzle are being formed: strike first against Qatar, and strike hard.

“The problem with [Qatar] is they play really good when they’re ahead, and they play badly when they’re behind,” Guiao noted. “So we need to strike first. We don’t want to commit the same mistakes and try to win the game by catching. We want to start well and get a lead, or keep the game close until such time we get a good run.