May 17, 2023
MANILA, Philippines — The journey was not exactly rosy, but in the end, Gilas Pilipinas reclaimed the throne it once sat on for decades.
Gilas Pilipinas smoothened the gaps in its game in the first half and then kept it together the rest of the way to dispatch host Cambodia, 80-69, on Tuesday in the gold medal game of the 32nd Southeast Asian Games men’s basketball tournament.
“I know a lot of people doubted this team the first time we lost. But I did not tell you the first words in the dugout, I said this was the loss we could afford. And I thought we needed that loss, actually,” national coach Chot Reyes said on the heels of the contest.
“We just kept our focus. Here we are. The players did a hell of a job. They stuck together. We kept this team of what, five, six imports to below 70 points. That was great defense, man,” he added.
“In the end, it was our defense that brought us to this gold medal.”
The Filipinos looked an entirely different lot from how they were at the tough and steamy Morodok Techo National Stadium five days ago, playing cohesively and much more confidently before the partisan crowd.
WATCH: Gilas Pilipinas celebrates after reclaiming gold in the Southeast Asian Games. #SEAGames2023 | @junavINQ pic.twitter.com/M2VW3tRv0Z
— INQUIRER Sports (@INQUIRERSports) May 16, 2023
Justin Brownlee was again the tip of the Gilas Pilipinas’ spear, scoring 23 points to go with seven rebounds. Chris Newsome tossed in a strong production of his own with 16.
Gilas Pilipinas built a 13-point lead behind Brownlee, Newsome, Jerom Lastimosa, and Christian Standhardinger heading into the halftime break, and then withstood a number of fightbacks from the loaded Cambodia side to close the game.
Tuesday’s victory replenished the Philippines’ treasure chest, hiking its overall count of SEA Games gold medals to 19. More importantly, it reinstated Gilas as a power in the region.
Ganuelas-Rosser, Standhardinger, and CJ Perez all finished with nine points while newcomer Lastimosa added four.
The Cambodians threatened in the final quarter, pulling within 59-64 with a little over seven minutes remaining. But with its short rotation running on fumes and having very few answers to Gilas’ collective effort, the hosts sputtered and were unable to repeat against the Filipinos.
Brandon Peterson had 18 points, Darrin Dorsey 17, while Sayeed Pridgett and Dwayne Morgan added 13 for Cambodia.
Before getting back at Cambodia, the Philippines also toppled Indonesia, which unseated Gilas in the previous SEA Games held in Hanoi, Vietnam.
“Well you know, I came here, I envisioned this, visualized it. But I didn’t make it happen, it was the players who made it happen. It was their effort, their unwillingness to give up [that all made it happen] in the end,” Reyes said.
It was quite the trek for the Philippines, which had to hurdle manpower woes, a short camp, and then logistical woes and an injury at the Cambodian capital.
But those would exactly make this triumph sweeter, especially with the Fiba World Cup hosting just 101 days away.