Gilas Pilipinas faces Chinese Taipei, looks ahead to OQT
Published on February 25, 2024

Loud and clear in the ears of Gilas Pilipinas coach Tim Cone is the battle cry ‘Beat Chinese Taipei!’ But getting stronger as well is the sound of distant drumming from an impending war.

“We don’t want to look far ahead,” Cone said Saturday night, Feb. 24, on the eve of host Philippines’ game against the Taiwanese at the Philsports Arena in the first window of the FIBA Asia Cup Qualifiers. “But the guys have been talking about it, and that’s really the big one of the year, that qualifying tournament in Latvia.”

Five months before Gilas puts everything on the line against world No. 8 Latvia, one of three Baltic states, and No. 23 Georgia, a former Soviet republic, in the Olympic Qualifying Tournament, needing at least one win, by rough estimate, to have a shot at making it to the Paris Olympiad, Cone is polishing off the finishing touches to a masterful start by the national team in the regional qualifier.

“This tournament is preparation for the next one,” he said. “We’re building chemistry, building our style of play, figuring out our philosophy, and trying to create a buy-in with the players. That’s what this one is all about for us. Winning is important, but honestly less important than doing those things because that’s gonna bring us to the next one and make us grow.

“It’s always important to win but I’m never a believer in winning at all costs. You wanna win, but you also wanna grow as you win. That’s the idea. You learn more from failure than you do winning.  But when you can win and learn, that’s when it’s really special. Hopefully, we can do that in this window.”  

Hong Kong has been hurdled 94-64 at the Tsuen Wan Stadum on Feb. 22. Next up at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 25, at the Philsports Arena in Pasig City is the visiting Taiwanese, an opponent who has given the Philippines problems in the past before buckling under.

Taipei bowed to New Zealand 89-69 in the other Group B match but not after giving the Kiwis some scare by coming within four points near halfway in the fourth quarter only to lose steam.

Cone dismissed the notion that the final score between New Zealand and Taipei could be an indication Sunday’s game would be a breeze for Gilas.

“It was close at the start of the fourth quarter,” Cone said. “I’ve been hearing around that we’re such heavy favorites against Chinese Taipei and I’m watching their video and… Wow, this team is really strong. They got good size, they shoot the ball extremely well, they play with pace, and they’ve been together for a long time.”

Singled out by Cone for his performance against New Zealand was 6-foot-4 Taiwanese forward Cheng Liu, who had 20 points on 8 of 16 shooting, including four 3-point shots.