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Good-natured banters came to an end at the conclusion of the gala night at the Dusit Thani Hotel Wednesday.
Now come the growls and howls, and the pushes and the shoves as the 27th FIBA Asia Championship unfurls at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay and Ninoy Aquino Stadium in Manila Thursday.
Fourteen of the 15 competing teams begin their pursuit of the three 2014 FIBA World Cup berths at stake in this biennial Asian conclave.
The Philippines takes on lowly Saudi Arabia for its first FIBA Asia game in 40 years before the home crowd.
The goal in the 8:30 p.m. match is to win big and build momentum for tougher games versus Jordan Friday and Chinese Taipei.
More exciting matches on opening day pits Jordan versus Chinese Taipei at 1:15 p.m., Japan against Qatar at 3:30 p.m. and defending champion China versus Korea at 5:45 p.m.
The Mall of Asia Arena curtain raiser features former two-time titlist Iran against SEABA qualifier Malaysia at 11 a.m. The busy opening-day sked is capped by the Kazakhstan-Thailand face-off at 10:30 p.m.
Bahrain and India slug it out in a lone match at the Ninoy Aquino Stadium at 6 p.m.
At the sidelines in Day One is Hong Kong.
Hong Kong, Qatar and Jordan compose Group B, all assured of entry into the second round of the preliminary stage following the exit of Lebanon because of its indefinite suspension from the FIBA rolls.
The Nationals held their last full practice session Wednesday morning at the Treston Gym at The Fort then agreed to all go off social media to concentrate at the task at hand.
“All you words of support fill our hearts with hope. But as we embark on the biggest battle of our lives, we will be offline from Aug. 1-11. Please pray for us,” said coach Chot Reyes for his parting shot on his Twitter account.
Likewise shelved is any celebration for the 50th birthday of the Gilas Pilipinas bench chieftain Thursday.
The Nationals, however, are tipped to give their coach a huge birthday present in the form of a good performance against the Saudi side that made the FIBA Asia meet only for the second time in 12 years.
“We don’t want to overlook Saudi Arabia but I must admit we’re preparing hard for Jordan and Chinese Taipei,” said Reyes
A sweep of Group A plays versus Saudi, Jordan and Taipei plus at least two wins against Qatar, Japan and Hong Kong in the next round would put Gilas Pilipinas in its desired spot in the quarterfinals versus either Korea or Kazakhstan.
Reyes, however, insists they will not take Saudi Arabia for granted.
Third placer in the FIBA Gulf zone elimination behind Qatar and Bahrain, Saudi Arabia prepared for the Manila games on an African tour, beating Cote D’Ivoire, 64-46, then losing to Tunisia twice, 43-81 and 47-74.
Serbian coach Nenad Kradzic goes to war with all pure Saudi players in Mohammed Almarwani, Mustafa Alhwsawi, Mohammed Abujabal, Jaber Kabe, Marzouq Almuwallad, Ayman Almuwallad, Mohammed Alsager, Fahed Felal, Nassir Abo Jalas, Mathna Almarwani, Turki Almuhanna and Ahmed Almukhtar.
Saudi Arabia is the third shortest team in the tourney with an average height of only 6-foot-1 5/8 compared to Gilas Pilipinas’ 6-foot-4.
Saudi’s tallest player is center Mohammed Almarwani at 6-7.
In the last six editions of the FIBA Asia Championship, Saudi qualified just once in 2005 in Qatar where it ended up eighth.
More of a football country, Saudi Arabia has played only a total of 53 FIBA Asia games, winning 28 of them for a 52.83 percent mark. The Philippines has 122 wins against 65 losses for a high 65.24-percent record – fourth best in the biennial event next to China’s 93.96, South Korea’s 78.20, North Korea’s 71.43 and Japan’s 67.86.
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