MANILA, Philippines – The dream of making the 2016 Rio Olympics came to an end when the Philippines lost to New Zealand on the second day of the FIBA Manila Olympic Qualifying Tournament on Wednesday, July 6.
The Philippines, which also lost its opening day game against France, became the first team to get eliminated in the tourney, leaving the national team despondent as Wednesday night turned into the early hours of Thursday at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Few looked more shaken up by the loss than Gabe Norwood, who braved through doing the post-game press conference but visibly looked, in his own explanation, “lost for words.”
“I know it hurts for everybody,” Norwood said, pausing between phrases. “It pains me to be in this situation and I speak for the whole team. Just a tough process.”
New Zealand took control early and went up by double digits in the opening moments of the third period. Gilas got as close as two in the final quarter, but its opponents didn’t let up and managed to hold on for the win.
“New Zealand came out and played a hell of a game. Their guards played well, bigs played well. We just didn’t have any answers tonight at the time when you really needed them,” said Norwood, who struggled from the field by going 0-of-2 in 27 minutes.
The Webster brothers hurt Gilas badly, with Tai scoring 25 and Corey pitching in 30. Andray Blatche led the Philippines with 30 points and 7 boards.
After the final buzzer sounded to signal the end of the road for the national team, Gilas huddled up one final time with Norwood, its team captain, providing the final sentiments.
“I just told them to be proud,” Norwood remembered what he told them. “Can’t stop being proud. We were wearing that flag across our chests, and as badly as it hurts, we know the effort that we put in as well.”
Gilas went through weeks of gruelling preparation, only to play just two games and to lose them in disappointing fashion.
“And that’s the thing that probably hurts the most - how much work we put in, how much effort we put in tonight and to still come up short - that’s what hurts," said the team's defensive stopper. "We’re a strong group. We all have really a lot of respect for one another on and off the court.”
Nonetheless, Norwood was complimentary of the support from the fans and hopes it will remain the case, wherever the Gilas program goes after the Olympic Qualifiers.
“It hurts, but I also want to say thank you to the best fans in the world. Hopefully this continues to bring pride to our country, the game of basketball, and hopefully we continue to move forward with the Gilas program.” – Rappler.com