‘Losing Kai was big’: Cone says Sotto absence crucial in loss to Brazil

Delfin Dioquino

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‘Losing Kai was big’: Cone says Sotto absence crucial in loss to Brazil

THANK YOU. Gilas Pilipinas players acknowledge their supporters in the 2024 FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament.


Tim Cone says Gilas Pilipinas badly missed Kai Sotto as his absence crippled the Philippines' frontline in its semifinal loss to Brazil in the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament

MANILA, Philippines – Gilas Pilipinas bid its Paris Olympic dreams goodbye with Kai Sotto helplessly watching from the sidelines.

Head coach Tim Cone said the team badly missed the 7-foot-3 big man as his absence crippled the Philippines’ frontline in its 71-60 semifinal loss to Brazil in the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament on Saturday, July 6.

A game-time decision after sustaining a rib injury that kept him out for the entire second half of their 96-94 defeat to Georgia in the group stage, Sotto ended up not playing.

“We don’t want to make excuses, but losing Kai was big for us because it just took away our depth in the frontline and forced June Mar Fajardo to have to overplay minutes, and that kind of all mushroomed it right there,” said Cone.

“But the bottomline is we just weren’t good enough tonight. We got to be better. We’re trying to tell ourselves that almost isn’t good enough. Almost winning, almost getting there is not good enough.”

“We got to find a way to get over the hump and get there, and tonight, we didn’t do that,” Cone added.

The Philippines initially barely felt the effect of playing without Sotto as it built a lead as big as 12 points and entered the halftime break ahead, 33-27.

But Brazil – featuring two 6-foot-9 former NBA players in Bruno Caboclo and Cristiano Felicio – clogged the lanes and turned the tables in the second half.

Keeping the Philippines scoreless in the first six minutes of the third quarter, the Brazilians rode on a blistering 14-0 start and outscored the Filipinos, 24-6, in the period to mount a commanding 51-39 advantage.

Cone said the physicality of Caboclo and Felicio, plus the heavier workload, took their toll on Fajardo.

Fajardo still finished with a double-double of 10 points and 11 rebounds in over 30 minutes of action, although he shot just 4-of-10 from the field.

On the other side, Caboclo imposed his will inside and posted 15 points, 11 rebounds, and 3 blocks.

“Started off strong, but we just couldn’t sustain it against their physicality. We’re just lacking a big, we had to overplay our frontline,” said Cone.

“I think, more than anything, June Mar got really tired having to battle [Caboclo and Felicio]. Those were two guys ganging up on him and rotating on him. It was a tough battle for him being there by himself.”

Also missing AJ Edu and Jamie Malonzo due to injuries, Gilas Pilipinas hopes to get healthy in the coming months before it returns to action in the second window of the FIBA Asia Cup Qualifiers in November. –

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Delfin Dioquino

Delfin Dioquino dreamt of being a PBA player, but he did not have the skills to make it. So he pursued the next best thing to being an athlete – to write about them. He took up journalism at the University of Santo Tomas and joined Rappler as soon as he graduated in 2017.