Gilas Pilipinas’ loss to Puerto Rico reminiscent of 1959 FIBA heartbreak

Ignacio Dee
Gilas Pilipinas’ loss to Puerto Rico reminiscent of 1959 FIBA heartbreak
The Philippines' defeat to Puerto Rico this week brings back memories of the 1959 World Championship, when it was once again the smallest player on the court who bedeviled the Philippines

Another ghost from the past eliminated the Philippines from contention for the fourth and last spot in its group, and it was their smallest player who extinguished our flickering hopes to make the knockout phase of the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Seville, Spain. 

NBA veteran JJ Barea, who is listed at six-feet, but seems even smaller, eluded LA Tenorio and Gilas Pilipinas’ defense to lift Puerto Rico to a 77-73 triumph on Wednesday, September 3 in Group B after leading despite the Philippines leading by as much as 12 points in the second quarter.

Coach Chot Reyes told reporters after the game that inexperience in crucial moments weighed on the players as the team will face Senegal tomorrow for a chance to end its winless spell for the last time in this tournament.

Only ten players suited up for Puerto Rico and one coach quoted at an online news website said Gilas Pilipinas should match up well with Puerto Rico. 

Barea’s performance recalled the 1959 World Championship in Chile, where Juan Vicens, who led Puerto Rico to a 76-63 victory that ended the Philippines’ bid to match its best-ever finish of third place in the 1954 tournament in Rio de Janiero. 

The Philippines, which beat Uruguay, 68-59 but lost to Bulgaria, 85-61, had to beat Puerto Rico to enter the second round. The Philippines ended in ninth place as it won all of its consolation round games.

Vicens, a 5-foot-9 star guard at Kansas State University under the famous Tex Winter, scored 28 points as he defied four men coach Baby Dalupan threw at him, including the fleet-footed Loreto Carbonnell, who was the Philippines’ top scorer. 

In a forthcoming book on Philippine international basketball campaigns, Dalupan said he told Carbonnell to stick to Vicens, who had mocked two other guards, starting the second half. 

“I limited him to nine points,” related Carbonnell, now a coaching consultant at San Beda. After Carbonnell was given a breather, Vicens literally spewed fire as he finished off the Filipinos. 

Sports columnists were aghast that Puerto Rico’s smallest player proved too difficult for the Filipinos to stop, just like Barea did against LA Tenorio. But Vicens, who has a statue bearing his likeness in front of an arena named after him in Puerto Rico, shot with the left or right and copied the moves of Bob Cousy, the court-general of the Boston Celtics in their early NBA championship years.

The next time the Philippines faced Puerto Rico was in the classification round in the 1960 Olympics. Emilio Achacoso Jr., one of the guards sent by Dalupan to face Vicens, said they were ready for him. “We were waiting for him to transfer (the ball) to his right and we studied how Cousy moved,” said Achacoso in the forthcoming book. 

Vicens had only 11 points but it took a buzzer-beater by Ed Ocampo to beat Puerto Rico, 82-80, and avenge their 1959 loss. Puerto Rico then routed the Philippines in two Olympics; 89-65 in 1968 and 92-72 in 1972.

Will the Philippines end the FIBA World Cup without a win? Will heart, fighting spirit finally prevail over science, experience in coping with high-pressure situations at the world stage? Tomorrow evening, Gilas Pilipinas will roll the dice once more. –

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