The Philippine men’s basketball national team overcame the worst crisis that hit the team in the decade and thanks to Andray Blatche’s late tournament heroics, Gilas Pilipinas booked Asia’s final ticket to the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup in September 2019, re-entering basketball’s grandest stage for the second consecutive edition.
The ticket was stamped South Korea knocked out the Philippines’ rival for the final entry Lebanon, 84-72, while Blatche was tearing Kazakhstan into shreds in the fourth quarter of their final elimination game in Astana. The ex-NBA star sizzled with an international career high of 41 points off five triples, together with 13 rebounds, four steals, and two blocks.
The erstwhile close game though became a rout when veteran Jayson Castro fired two straight triples by the tailend of the third quarter, when Gilas erected a 68-55 lead, and the rest of the game was a rout for the Filipinos. Another man also helped the Filipinos’ World Cup campaign, but the former PBA import bannered the colors of a different nation.
Ricardo Ratliffe, a two-time import for the Star Hotshots, powered South Korea with eight points in the fourth quarter as the East Asian power limited Lebanon to only eight points in the fourth quarter in Beirut. Ratliffe led the Koreans with 25 points, 11 rebounds, and four blocks, knocking out the 6-6 Lebanon from contention while the Filipino win made them the best fourth-placed team in Asia with a 7-5 record.
Two days ago, Gilas routed 84-46 in Doha and was also powered by Blatche, who debuted after getting suspended during the infamous Philippine-Australia brawl last July 2018. He tallied 17 points, 15 rebounds, and seven assists in the penultimate game.
Aside from surviving the consequences of the brawl against Australia, which led to the suspension of all (which includes Blatche, Castro, and the entire coaching staff led by Chot Reyes) except three of the original Gilas team members for the World Cup qualifiers, the Philippines went on the brink of elimination with a makeshift team when they dropped two home games—88-92 versus Kazakhstan and 70-78 versus Iran—last December.
* Photo of Gilas Pilipinas team carrying Coach Chot Reyes taken from the Gilas Pilipinas Instagram