MANILA, Philippines – Riding the wave of a four-game winning streak, Gilas Pilipinas hopes to carry the momentum as it winds down its campaign on Monday, February 27, against Jordan in the FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers.
After a rough 2-3 start in the second round of the qualifiers, Gilas Pilipinas now has a 6-3 record – good enough for third place in Group E, just behind leaders Lebanon and New Zealand who both tote 7-2 records.
A win in its last game will tie Gilas for second place with the loser of the Lebanon versus New Zealand match also happening on Monday.
Jordan, running fourth in the group with a 5-4 slate, won its game on the road last Friday against India in a 98-63 decision that secured its World Cup spot.
Head coach and former national team captain Wesam Al-Sous brought in the big guns for this last FIBA window to ensure that Jordan does not blow its two chances to qualify.
But there’s still enough motivation for both Gilas Pilipinas and Jordan to go all-out in their last game at 6 pm at the Philippine Arena in Bulacan.
Ending the qualifiers with five straight wins will give coach Chot Reyes some semblance of redemption. It will be proof that last year’s struggles of the national program were mere birth pains that have now borne fruit in the form of a cohesive and competitive Gilas squad that has embraced the system Reyes instilled.
It will also give Gilas fans hope that the national team is slowly finding its own identity and is on the right track towards being World Cup-ready.
The Jordanians, on the other hand, will have revenge on their minds. Dating back to November 2021, Jordan had been nearly invincible in front of its fans, winning all but one of its home games.
Prior to Friday’s games, Jordan was the only team to have beaten Lebanon, winning at home over the Cedars, 74-63, on February 24, 2022. Jordan also defeated last November the Tall Blacks of New Zealand, 92-75.
The only team to have stolen a win at the Prince Hamzah Hall in Amman was Gilas Pilipinas, which repulsed Jordan, 74-66, last November 10. Suffice to say, Jordan will be looking to even things up.
Reyes’ ploy to go small ball against Lebanon paid dividends as his platoon of athletic, versatile players capable of playing multiple positions unleashed an offensive attack that overwhelmed the Cedars. Gilas sank 17 triples from 36 attempts and outscored Lebanon on fastbreaks, in the paint, and off turnovers.
Gilas also won the battle of the boards against Lebanon which was missing a naturalized big man and its top local frontliner, 6-foot-9 Ali Haidar.
Having just two legit big man in 6-foot-10 June Mar Fajardo and 6-foot-7 Mason Amos might not be enough against Jordan, which has four players standing above 6-foot-9.
Manning the slot for Jordan is EuroLeague veteran, 7-foot Turkish-Jordanian Ahmet Duverioglu, also known as Ahmad Al Dwairi who is posting 12.8 points and 9.8 rebounds in the qualifiers.
Against Gilas that featured Kai Sotto, Ange Kouame, Japeth Aguilar, and Poy Erram last November, Al Dwairi still produced 17 points, 16 rebounds, and 2 blocks. In Jordan’s win against New Zealand, Al Dwairi posted 22 points, 12 boards, and 2 swats.
Gilas cannot afford to have Fajardo get into early foul trouble anew, or else Al Dwairi will simply dominate down low. Inserting Kevin Quiambao in the roster will add length and heft to the thin Gilas rotation, but they will still be undersized against the Jordan frontline which also boasts of 6-foot-11 bruiser Mohammad Hussein and 6-foot-9 Caden Alnajdawi. Veteran power forward Zaid Abbas, who sat out against India, could probably see some action against Gilas.
But it is not just in the low block that Jordan is dangerous. They also have a number of wing threats capable of matching the Gilas offensive juggernaut.
Former NBA D-League Most Improved Player and Argentine league MVP Dar Tucker will cancel out Justin Brownlee’s contributions. The naturalized Jordanian has been norming 19.6 points and 7 rebounds in the FIBA World Cup Asian qualifiers.
Similar to the Philippines and Lebanon, Jordan also features a number of mainstays who have played college ball in the US NCAA.
Amin Abu Hawwas, a 6-foot-4 product of Mars Hill University, is a prolific shooting guard who led the Jordan league in scoring the past two seasons. He was named league MVP in 2022. Hawwas tops the Jordanian locals in scoring in the World Cup qualifiers with 13.2 points per outing, shooting 41.2% from three.
Freddy Ibrahim, a 6-foot-3 Canadian-Jordanian playmaker from the University of Tampa Spartans, is among the top players in assists in the qualifiers with 7.3 dimes a game. He is also scoring in double figures for Jordan with 10.2 points.
Zaid’s younger brother, 6-foot-3 Hashem Abbas from the Bridgeport Purple Knights, and 6-foot-3 Sami Bzai who was the second leading scorer of the Southeastern Oklahoma State University in his senior year in college, form part of Jordan’s deep backcourt rotation.
Gilas Pilipinas will most likely find Jordan a tougher foe than the shorter and depleted Cedars team they beat last Friday. Expect a fun and entertaining encounter on Monday between two squads who will want to end their tournament with a W. – Rappler.com
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