King and Queen of Basketball

IN a country where basketball is religion, Team Philippines lorded it over its opponents to remain gods of the sport in the Southeast Asian Games.

The Filipino dribblers swept the men’s and women’s 5-on-5 and 3-on-3 events to remain untouchable in the region.

As expected, the Gilas men’s squad took the gold with ease for its 18th overall title, yielding the trophy in only two occasions.

Composed of professionals and guided by multi-titled Coach Tim Cone, Gilas was never in trouble and cruised past hapless Thailand in the gold-medal match on Tuesday night at the MOA Arena.

Led by Philippine Basketball Association five-time Most Valuable Player June Mar Fajardo, defensive specialist Chris Ross, prolific scorer Stanley Pringle and shooters Matthew Wright and Marcio Lassiter, the hosts smashed the Thais, 115-81.

Gilas created a 48-39 cushion at the half and was unrelenting in scoring the 34-point win.

Fajardo scored 17 points and grabbed 13 rebounds, while his former San Miguel Beer teammate Christian Standhardinger added 16 points and 11 boards.

The women’s side, on the other hand, wrote SEA Games history by winning the country’s first gold medal in the event.

They also beat the Thai squad, 91-71, in front of an appreciative crowd, with Janine Pontejos, Afril Bernardino and Jack Danielle Animam leading the team.

“Mission accomplished. Four gold medals for the Philippines in basketball capped by another run by our Gilas Pilipinas men’s team. With the country hosting the SEA Games, it gave us a unique opportunity to be able to showcase the best team we could form,” Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas President Al Panlilio said.

“To all the Filipino basketball fans, we thank you for the support, and we hope we made you proud,” he added.

In the inaugural 3-on-3 event, the Filipinos were unstoppable, sweeping the men’s and women’s divisions in emphatic fashion at the Filoil Flying V Centre.

Bannering the men’s squad are CJ Perez, Jason Perkins, Chris Newsome and Moala Tautuaa, while Animam, Bernardino, Pontejos and Clare Castro consisting the women’s division.

The Gilas women finally ended a 42-year slump after dealing Thailand a 91-71 beating also on Tuesday, sweeping all its matches.

The Philippines has not won the women’s basketball gold medal since 1977 but finished runner-up six times and third five time.

“Thank God,” a teary-eyed Gilas Pilipinas Coach Patrick Aquino said. “Everybody helped in this gold medal. I am so happy for the girls. I hope na sana, mapansin na nila kami.”

“The gold is with us now, not just happy for the girls, but also for the whole country,” added Aquino, who also handled the national women’s squad two SEA Games ago.

The five-time women’s champion Thailand, with eight silvers and two bronzes, never tasted the lead and even trailed by 21 points, 87-66.

Even Tiffany Bias, who was selected in the second round (17th Overall) of the 2014 WNBA Draft by the Phoenix Mercury, could not help her team get over the hump after scoring 13 points in the first period and ended the game with only 15 points.

Animan had 21 points, five rebounds and two blocks while Pontejos had 16 points, five rebounds, one assist and four steals.

Ana Castillo and Kelly Hayes had 11 points each while Afril Bernardino had 10 points, 14 rebounds, five assists and two blocks.

Animam and Bernardino now had two gold medals after winning also the gold medal in the women’s 3X3 competition along with Pontejos and Castro.

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