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Gilas Defeats Ukraine U20 Ahead of FIBA World Cup

Justin Donta Brownlee of the Philippines competes against players from Jordan during their Group E 2nd round match of the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2023 Asian Qualifiers at the Philippine Arena in Bulacan Province, the Philippines, Feb. 27, 2023. / IMAGO

Gilas Pilipinas won their second straight tune-up game against the Ukraine U-20 team by the score of 84-74 at the Zalgiris Arena in Kaunas, Lithuania. The victory was a huge follow-up to the team’s 70-61 win against the same opponents at the same venue a couple days earlier. The men’s national basketball team is now 2-2 in the four friendlies that they have played in Europe so far.

Leading the way for Gilas was the naturalized player Justin Brownlee who had a game-leading 21 points, shooting 8-13 from the field which included three from deep. CJ Perez added four rebounds and four assists and Dwight Ramos and June Mar Fajardo chipped in with nine points apiece.

On the defensive end, the Ukrainians’ field goal percentage was held to under 40% and their fastbreak points limited to just four compared to the 13 by Gilas.

The Filipinos dropped their first two games in their stint in Europe, 71-81 to Estonia and 85-89 to Finland. The two consecutive wins against Ukraine U-20 will come as a welcome confidence boost as the team is expected to play at least two more games in Lithuania. 

Gilas coach Chot Reyes is happy with the team’s preparation ahead of the upcoming FIBA Basketball World Cup 2023 but sees multiple areas of improvement before they can be competitive with the elite nations in the world. 

Reyes went on the record to say the team recognizes that results won’t happen in an instant, but the lengthy preparation time should be enough to build the most competitive team possible for later this year. Overall he believes the team is headed in the right direction to compete at the highest level at the World Cup.

Philippines vs Ukraine – Match Summary

The teams were neck-and-neck for the first two quarters of the game with a late triple by Brownlee being the only difference going into halftime as Gilas led 45-42. The Filipinos found their groove however in the third quarter, outshooting the Ukranians 24-18 in the frame to open up a nine point lead heading into the fourth. 

Gilas went on to further their lead to fourteen in the last quarter 74-60 before finishing the game up double digits 84-74. While the first half was highly contested, the Filipinos seemed to take full control as the game went on and cruise to victory without much trouble after a dominant third quarter, never giving up the lead.

What’s Next For Gilas?

Gilas still has a minimum of two more games to go in Lithuania and will then go on to play in the FIBA Basketball World Cup in August this year. The team is missing a couple of their biggest stars in Jordan Clakson and Kai Sotto who are finishing up with their NBA Summer League engagements before joining Gilas for training camp ahead of the tournament. According to Coach Reyes there still has been no firm commitment of dates for when they will be connecting with the team.

Clarkson, the 2020-23 NBA Sixth Man of the Year, recently finalized a $55 million, three-year extension with the Utah Jazz per multiple reports. It was rumored that he was waiting to get his contract before giving exact dates for when he could join the Filipino team. 

Gilas will open their FIBA World Cup campaign against the Dominican Republic on August 25 at the 55,000-seater Philippine Arena in Bulacan. They will then go on to face Angola on the 27th and arguably their biggest competition for the Group Stage in Italy on the 29th.

To qualify to the 2nd Round of the World Cup Gilas will need to end up in one of the top two spots in Group A. This will likely require the Filipinas to win a minimum of two out of the three games. Given the team’s progression in the past couple of years and the addition of Jordan Clarkson to the mix, there is a pretty good chance we could see Gilas make a deep run into the tournament this year, causing a few upsets.