Batang Gilas defends U16 Seaba crown over tough Malaysian squad
by rick olivares
The final score of 83-62, a successful defense of the Seaba U16 crown by the Philippines over Malaysia did not reflect the struggle for over 25 minutes.
Malaysia had a big, bold, and audacious plan. And with one bold stroke, they sought to seize the moment and perhaps the momentum that could lead to an improbable finish – a Seaba championship at the expense of the perennial favorites, the Philippines.
Hounding the Philippines’ ball carriers, packing the lane, and drilling outside shots, Malaysia was a bucket away from notching the score for only the second time, but as John Tang threw up a three with the score 38-36 in favor of the Philippines, they could have led, just as they did earlier at 5-0. Except he bricked the shot.
The missed basket was a harbinger to come. For the entire first half, Malaysia gave the home team fits with their shooting, defense, and hustle. The partisan crowd cheered every Philippine basket. However, they were mostly uneasy. Malaysia’s six first half triples kept them within striking distance. Were it not for a late flurry to close out the second period, it might have been a bit tighter.
The Malaysians also translated the Philippines 19 turnovers into 21 points, nine more than the Philippines. Nevertheless, the Philippines led 43-36.
“It was a classic case of gigil,” later explained Philippine point guard Rence Padrigao. “We wanted to land the knockout blow early.”
The knockout came in three-fold manner. Under head coach Mike Oliver’s orders, the Philippines guarded the three-point shot more tightly. And 6’11” center Kai Sotto went on a scoring spree with Padrigao putting on a dribbling and passing exhibition.
The Malaysians laid a big fat egg from three-point distance in the third period as the home team padded the lead to 13 after 30 minutes. Then Padriago went wild, serving up easy baskets for Ravel Cortez or Bismarck Lina to break the game wide open. The lead ballooned up to 25, 77-52, after two Sotto free throws.
Sotto scored 10 third period points on 4-6 shooting, blocked one shot and altered a few more. The son of former pro, Ervin, also hauled down 12 boards and finished with five blocked shots.
And the rout was on.
Malaysia’s pint-sized dynamo, Teoh Yi Kang tried his best to keep Malaysia in the game with daredevil drives against Sotto and Padriago. He finished with a game high 19 points but with his teammates shut down, all every one could wait for, was the final score.
Sotto, RC Calimag, and John Fortea each scored 15 to pace the Philippines. Raven Cortez and Lina each added 15 points while Padrigao finished with five points, 11 rebounds, and six assists.
“It was good to defend the championship,” beamed Padriago post-match. “Plus, we won this in front of the home fans. That’s an extra treat.”
Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas Executive Director Renauld “Sonny” Barrios offered his profuse thanks to the youthful players: “We are very proud that the boys were able to defend the crown in front of their hometown. It wasn’t an easy road in the finals match but it was all the more made sweeter by how they fought in the second half. They recovered from the difficult start to win in dominant fashion. We have to offer our thank to the Filipino basketball fan for showing support and of course to the players and the coaches. Mike Oliver especially for a job well done in steering us to back-to-back titles.”
SBP President Alfredo Panlilio was likewise ecstatic about the triumph; the first under his watch as the head of Philippine basketball’s governing body. “First of all, congratulations to the Batang Gilas boys, to the coaching staff headed by Coach Michael Oliver, and team manager Andrew Teh for winning the Seaba U-16 Championship. It gives me great joy to see them play today. The future of Philippine basketball is definitely bright with the likes of Kai Sotto, Terrence Fortea, Fortsky Padrigao, Raven Cortez, Bismarck Lina, and other. Mabuhay ang Pilipinas! Puso!”
“We finally arrived at the journey that we set out three months,” said head coach Mike Oliver.
The Seaba championship was Oliver’s second. He led the last edition of Batang Gilas to a title two years ago in Cagayan de Oro.
Batang Gilas and Malaysia will both enter the FIBA Asia U16 championships although according to FIBA officials, the dates and venue will be determined by August of this year.