07:03 PM August 31, 2014

SEVILLE, Spain – Will Gilas Pilipinas have enough high-octane gas left in the tank against Luis Scola and Argentina Monday to fulfill Bill Bayno’s prediction?

The hope is that the Philippine team, on the heels of squaring off with European heavyweights back-to-back in two days, won’t be zapped of strength and will by the time Argentina comes along. But the reality could be a daunting thought.

Gametime is at 5:30 p.m. (11:30 p.m. Monday Manila time).


After an emotionally draining loss to Croatia in the opener of the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup and doubtless another courageous stand against Greece on Day 2 Sunday (2 a.m. Monday Manila time), Gilas Pilipinas takes on the 2004 Olympic Games champion, ranked third in the world and gold medalist in the FIBA World Cup (1950), FIBA Americas (2001, 2011) and Pan Americas (1995).

The glitter of those medals alone should have dazzled just about anyone – but not Bayno, the former coach of the Talk ‘N Text Phone Pals (2001-2002) in the Philippine Basketball Association.

Bayno, an assistant coach with the Toronto Raptors and the Dominican Republic team, bracketed in Group C with the United States, Turkey and Ukraine, ran into former San Beda and Ginebra San Miguel star Mike Advani just before the Philippines-Croatia game and told him that he believes Argentina could be had.

“Gilas can beat Argentina, that’s what coach Bill told me,” Advani, a former Bayno assistant, said.

According to Bayno, Advani said, Argentina is not in this FIBA World Cup the powerhouse team it used to be.

“They’re without some key players (like the Spurs’ Manu Ginobili),” said Advani.

That should be welcome news for national coach Chot Reyes although the way Argentina laid waste of Puerto Rico, 95-78, in another Group B match where Scola, a member of the Indiana Pacers, had his way with 20 points and 9 rebounds, showed little promise of that telltale Achilles heel.

JJ Barea, the Minnesota Timberwolves starting point guard, led Puerto Rico with 24 points and 4 assists but got little help from the rest of the team, another portentous sign probably favoring Gilas Pilipinas.

Renaldo Balkman, the former Petron Blaze import, did acquit himself with 10 points and 4 rebounds but neither he nor Barea could save Puerto Rico when Argentina poured on the heat in the first and third quarters.

Andres Nocioni, who had stints with the Philadelphia 76ers, Sacramento Kings and Chicago Bulls, made sure Scola didn’t overburden himself by adding 18 points, along with veteran guard Salem Safar.

Scola, Nocioni (11 rebs), Safar (4 of 8 3-pointers) and starters Walter Hermann (12 points and 10 rebs), Pablo Prigioni (9 points) and Facundo Campazzo (8 points) have seen in the Croatia game what Gilas is capable of doing and will be out to deny the Philippines any foothold in Group B.

The other Group B match saw wild card Greece rout FIBA Africa’s Senegal, 87-64, putting pressure on Gilas Pilipinas, Puerto Rico and Senegal to win two in the preliminaries and make it to the top four.

The next round is the 16-team knockout phase, with the fourth-ranked Group B qualifier facing the emerging No. 1 squad from Group A, which could either be host Spain, Serbia or Brazil.

Spain, behind the 33 points of Pau Gasol, who left Kobe Bryant and the Lakers and hooked up during the off season with Derrick Rose and the Bulls, made mincemeat of FIBA Asia champion Iran, 90-60; Serbia clobbered Egypt, 85-64; and Brazil edged Tony Parker-less France, 65-63.

Group C had Ukraine downing Dominican Republic, 72-62; Turkey turning back New Zealand, 76-73; and the United States overwhelming Finland, 114-55.

The NBA-powered US team rolled to a 31-16 first quarter lead and locked down and held the Finns to two points in the second period.

In Group D, Angola stunned cold-shooting South Korea, 80-69; Slovenia thumped Australia, 90-70; and Lithuania rapped Mexico, 87-74.

Day 2 Group B matches at the Palacio Municipal de Deportes San Pablo also have Croatia meeting Senegal at 12:30 p.m. (6:30 p.m. Manila time) and Puerto Rico facing Greece at 8 p.m. (2 a.m. Manila time).

Despite the 78-81 ovetime loss, the gutsy stand against Croatia continued to earn plaudits for Gilas Pilipinas, especially for naturalized player Andray Blatche, who had 28 points and 12 rebounds on his debut with the PH team.

“I was hoping that we could’ve pulled it off,” said Blatche. “A lot of teams would’ve given in, down by 15 points. We put ourselves in a position to win, but we just fell short.”

A buzzer-beating 2-point shot by Jeff Chan could have won the thriller for the Nationals but the well-defended jumper was off. A game-tying three-pointer by Jayson Castro, who got knocked down but got no call, also had little chance of going in at the end of overtime.

Still Blatche, the former Brooklyn Nets center who took over from Marcus Douthit, refused to be crestfallen.

“One thing about it is we’re confident now, we know that we belong,” he said. “Coming in here, a lot of people doubted us and saw us as an easy match. But we’re getting there.”

And there could be right in front of Pau Gasol and host Spain in the Round of 16.

But first Argentina and the business of making a seer out of coach Bill Bayno.

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