By Drei Christopher Villanueva
MALACCA, MALAYSIA — After making short work of their first three opponents, the gold rush had to be taken slowly and deliberately by the Philippine women’s basketball team in its next two games to make sure the ultimate prize wouldn’t slip out of its grasp.
Perlas Pilipinas had to be wary of Indonesia, the same team which defeated the squad in last year’s Southeast Asian Games. The wound of last year’s setback (which had cost the Philippines a shot at the gold medal) still fresh, the Filipinas made sure they would start the game strong from the get-go. They jumped the gun early, leading 22-9, with more than three minutes left before padding the advantage to 17, 45-28, early in the third period.
Unlike in their wins against Singapore, Laos and Vietnam, teams which they defeated by margins of 26, 147 and 78, respectively, the Filipinas didn’t play full court press the entire game.They were more cautious and more selective in their defensive approach, knowing they were going up against an experienced squad bannered by 6-foot-5 center Sophia Gabriel.
But they kept themselves active on both ends of the floor and their new found system, a more fast-pace style, suited the rest of the members, unlike before where they relied on their inside-out game anchored on Clare Castro, Ambi Almazan, Allana Lim, Afril Bernardino, Ewon Arayi, Raiza Dy and Sofia Roman.
Castro and Arayi were not included in the lineup, nor was Roman, who is currently studying in the United States. But the Perlas were able to add Chak Cabinbin, whose rah-rah style of play triggered the up tempo game and defensive pressure of the Filipinas. Along for the ride were fellow newcomers Janine Pontejos, a dead shot from the perimeter, as well as role players Ara Abaca and Andrea Tongco.
The promotion of Jack Animam, who was inserted to the regular roster, also beefed up the team’s frontline.
This year’s Perlas Pilipinas had a great mix of holdovers and newcomers devoted to achieve a common goal – win the gold medal in the SEABA Women’s Championship.
For four games, they were a team on a mission and they built the confidence level they needed heading to their much-awaited game against Malaysia. Like Indonesia, they had a score to settle against the Malaysians, who defeated them in last year’s FIBA Asia Women’s Championship. The Filipinas are taking the battle personally and vowed to win it all.
Allana Lim was quoted saying in another online media that they didn’t come here to lose, saying “Hindi kami nagpunta para magpatalo.”
By game time, everybody brought their game face on.
Lim made sure she will bring out her best game and she did. She hit 16 points and as early as the first half, she and Bernardino already had a total of eight points. Both players were able to exploit their versatility against their frontline counterparts. Lim was able to beat her defenders at the post and from the medium range. Bernardino made things more difficult for the defense when she was hitting her three-point shots. She hit two in the first half that led to the Filipinas’ breakaway.
Lim and Bernardino triggered the mini-breakaway in the second while Shelley Gupilan capped another big run. Her buzzer-beating triple gave the Philippines a 64-49 advantage.
The lead increased to as high as 20 points as a steal and a fast break basket completed by Pontejos put Perlas Pilipinas ahead, 71-51, early in the fourth period.
But just when the Filipinas thought they had the Malaysians pinned to the wall, the host team mounted a big rally. The Malaysians held the Filipinas scoreless in the last three minutes while unloading an 11-0 run to trim the gap to within four, 77-73 following a basket by Pang Hui Pin.
The Filipinas, however, wouldn’t be denied; after seeing Malaysia commit a crucial turnover down the stretch, they simply held on to the ball and killed time to preserve their lead and secure the Gold medal.
Perlas Pilipinas became the second Philippine women’s basketball team to win the SEABA tournament after the 2010 national squad coached by Heidi Ong won the title at the Ninoy Aquino Stadium. For head coach Patrick Aquino, the win serves as an important landmark for women’s basketball in the country.
“This is something very significant for the progress of women’s basketball in the Philippines, said Aquino. “I just hope we could have a continuity in our program.”
Aquino is hoping that following the successful campaign, the proposal of Dioceldo Sy, the chief backer of the sponsoring Blackwater Women’s, to have a league for women will be approved by the PBA soon.
At a time when the men’s national team is struggling to find its footing, the triumph of Perlas
Pilipinas is one the entire nation can be well and truly proud of.
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