Gilas Pilipinas women’s basketball team : Afril Bernadino (Photo: FIBA)

By Mel Fernandez

AUCKLAND, Henderson – They say size isn’t everything, but when you are confronting a team of much taller and bigger basketball players it can be quite intimidating for comparably diminutive players.

Despite their size disadvantage the Gilas Pilipinas women’s basketball team soldiered on against the New Zealand, Chinese and Korean teams at the FIBA Women’s Olympic Pre-Qualifying Tournament, which was held at the Trust Stadium in Auckland from 14-16 November.

At the practice session for the Gilas squad, a day before their game against the Tall Ferns, Coach Patrick Aquino told FMN that his team was hyped up and ready to go all out to win.

“For a fact we are in a hostile venue – the host country’s venue. It is pretty hard. I know the New Zealanders are gonna be all out supporting their team. But we are also going to be all out. We have some thoughts about what we can do better against the Tall Ferns, as we have already played two games against them recently.”

At their first Auckland match the Gilas women’s squad suffered a stinging loss, 111-54, at the hands of home team New Zealand. As reported by the media, it was obvious that the Filipinos had difficulty matching up with the bigger Kiwis.

“Credit to the Philippines who battled away despite being outsized, because it is difficult. We had the opportunity to play them twice earlier this year, so we were able to put a better game plan in place,” said Tall Ferns Head Coach Guy Molloy.

Final score: Gilas Pilipinas 54; the majority of their scoring from Afril Bernardino, who put in 17 points. While Keli Hayes and Janine Pontejos each produced 10.

Sky Sport Tall Ferns 111; Boagni 16, Davidson 16, Karaitiana 13, Farnworth 12, Taylor 11.

In the second match the Philippines lost to Korea, 114-75 and later China overwhelmed the Philippines 127-49.

The top two teams of the Auckland event – Korea and China – will go through to the next and final round in February in China.

The 16 teams that have qualified for the FIBA Women’s Olympic Qualifying Tournaments are: Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Great Britain, Japan, Mozambique, Nigeria, Puerto Rico, Serbia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden and the United States

Coach Aquino admitted that the Filipinas were simply outclassed. “They are also bigger and we couldn’t easily adjust to the game.

“We played very well today, but did not get the score that we wanted. The thing is that they (Gilas team) kept on fighting, they didn’t stop playing. That’s what we are here for – to show people that we can compete against the top teams.

“The only thing was that we were shooting the lights out, but they were tough teams to beat. We were just hoping that we could have a glimpse of a good game. We are just happy that the girls did their very best.”
On a positive note, Aquino said that he was delighted with the support they got from the Auckland Filipino fan base on arrival at the airport, right through the tournament and at the meet and greet and farewell functions. “It is incredible that the Filipinos here came to watch us play and also the New Zealanders. We really had a warm welcome here.”

The last word is from loyal members of the Auckland Filipino community fan base.

“It was a good game. For the Philippines team they definitely lacked the height. But we’ve got heaps of talent – as we’ve got international players in the team. It was definitely the height that was the main issue. We’ll get there hopefully.” – Coach Ariel Columna Alvaran, Knights Basketball NZ

“The game was exciting for me. Watching them (Gilas women) representing the Philippines was already something to be proud of.” – Leo Fernandez