As men’s team tries to figure out Cambodia, Gilas girls put on a show – rezal404

Ella Fajardo (left) proves size hardly matters after leading the Philippines in scoring against Cambodia.

Ella Fajardo proves size hardly matters after leading the Philippines in scoring against Cambodia. –CONTRIBUTED PHOTO/Ariya Kurniawan | Instagram @ariyakurniawan16

Gilas Pilipinas stretched his legs against Malaysia in the opening leg of his redemption tour in Southeast Asian Games basketball.

The Filipinos will get a real workout on Thursday.

And they might want to take their cue from the national women’s team, which is eyeing a “three-peat” in Phnom Penh.

Cambodia, host of the biennial meet’s 32nd edition, poured a lot of resources into a quick-fix basketball program and built a men’s squad that features six naturalized players.

“You saw the three guys in the 3×3,” said Philippines coach Chot Reyes—referring to Sayeed Pridgett, who once played in the NBA G-League, and well-traveled pros Brandon Peterson and Darrin Dorsey. “They have another three (for the 5X5 team).”

The three American-born players were part of the four-man Cambodia squad that beat the Philippines in the gold medal match of the 3×3 event. For the five-on-five, Cambodia will also field Oscar Lopez Jr, who has local roots owing to one of his parents, Darius Henderson and Dwayne Morgan.

Lopez had 19 points while Henderson added 18 in the host’s 85-60 victory over Singapore at Morodok Techo National Stadium on Wednesday.

‘To be tested’

Gilas Pilipinas in the SEA Games 2023.

Gilas Pilipinas at the SEA Games 2023. -CONTRIBUTED PHOTO/Ariya Kurniawan | Instagram @ariyakurniawan16

Beyond scouting reports, video highlights and Wednesday’s game against Singapore, there is little else Reyes and his all-star coaching staff can really work with to prepare for the six naturalized players, who are seeing action on the strength of a new rule implemented by the host country that foreign players can suit up for any Southeast Asian nation as long as he carries a passport of that country.

“Our adaptability is going to be tested,” Reyes said. “We have to be able to adjust and pivot during the game.”

“We have very little knowledge about their games as a team. We have some information as individuals, but as a team, very little. It’s really a matter of how we can adapt.”

He could ask the Gilas women how to get things done. After all, they too adapted on the fly.

Unperturbed by the naturalized additions of Cambodia, which included former WNBA player Meighan Simmons, who saw action for the Atlanta Dream, the Filipino girls blasted the hosts, 114-54, on Wednesday for a slam-bang start to their bid for a third straight gold.

“We only learned [about the naturalized players] when we got here and saw them [during] the 3×3 event,” national women’s coach Pat Aquino told the Inquirer via a message after the game. “We just took advantage after watching them play yesterday.”

“It feels good and a relief for everyone to get the first game,” he added.

Ella Fajardo finished with 17 points to lead the Philippines, which pulled away in the second period to log the victory.

Jack Animam, the talented front-line anchor who has played as an import in Serbia and France, came up just as huge with 16 points, nine rebounds and three assists while coming off the bench. With Chack Cabinbin, veteran star Afril Bernardino and Camille Clarin punching in double figures, the Gilas women didn’t concede an inch to the hosts.

“We just took advantage of the situations that Cambodia was in,” Aquino said. “They were tired from the previous game they have with Malaysia.”

special importance

Mariah Cooks, another American naturalized by Cambodia for the Games, led her team with 18 points and nine rebounds. Simmons, meanwhile, chipped in 11 and seven.

The Gilas golden girls will next battle Singapore on Thursday at 4 pm (Manila time) before the men’s team battles the host two hours later.

Justin Brownlee, the Philippines’ lone naturalized player, will lead Gilas Pilipinas against the import-laden Cambodia. Brownlee and Ginebra teammate Christian Standhardinger will likely draw from their experience of playing—and beating—a heavily reinforced squad. Ginebra took down the Bay Area Dragons in seven games in the Philippine Basketball Association Commissioner’s Cup championship.

The Thursday clash between both squads holds special importance. Because of the rejigged format of the men’s basketball competition, there is a chance that the two teams could end up clashing for the crown.

The Philippines is out to reclaim a title it had a vise-like grip on for over three decades before losing it to Indonesia last year, when the format called for the gold going to the top team at the end of a single round-robin.

The Nationals whipped Malaysia, 94-49, on Tuesday.

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