Gilas Pilipinas wraps up the initial phase of its campaign in the 2023 FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers on Sunday, Feb. 27 with a massive test against New Zealand at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Coach Chot Reyes said the team is embracing the challenge of facing a high-caliber squad in the Tall Blacks as they aim to sweep the February window in the match set at 7 p.m.
Reyes acknowledged the hurdle it needs to overcome but told his team that scoring an upset is doable.
“Let’s give everybody a surprise,” Reyes told his team at the conclusion of practice held on the eve of the match.
The Philippines faces New Zealand for the first time since the 2016 Olympic Qualifying Tournament, with the Kiwis taking an 89-80 win at the Mall of Asia Arena.
“We played New Zealand in the past and we know the kind of play, the style of play, the style of game that they play,” Reyes said. “From time to time, they change players, but the style remains the same.
“They’re very tough, they’re very physical, in your grill and they pressure and you have to be ready for that. I think we have to relish the opportunity to be tested against really great competition,” he added.
No major changes were made in the 12-man lineup, with guard Jaydee Tungcab being inserted in place of big man Tzaddy Rangel.
That keeps the Gilas core intact with Dwight Ramos, Thirdy Ravena, RR Pogoy, Robert Bolick and Kib Montalbo looking to step up like they did in the 88-64 victory against India last Friday.
Naturalized player Ange Kouame and Troy Rosario are also listed in the lineup despite dealing with injuries in the previous outing while Poy Erram could also be tasked to protect the middle for Gilas against the taller opposition.
Both teams are tied atop Group A at 1-0 after changes in the team standings were made following South Korea’s pullout due to COVID-19.
South Korea was officially disqualified from the qualifiers after forfeiting two games during the competition as stated in FIBA’s competition guidelines.
That strikes off the two teams’ victories via forfeiture with South Korea’s disqualification.
FIBA has yet to make a statement to officially declare the ruling but it quietly removed South Korea from the official page of the Asian Qualifiers located on the world governing body’s website.