Castro, Fajardo step up as Gilas Pilipinas survives gallant stand by Chinese Taipei

ByJay King

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Gilas Pilipinas started cold but came out firing on all cylinders after the first quarter to beat Chinese-Taipei, 90-83, on Monday night, thus sweeping the first window of the FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers.

The Filipinos found themselves staring at a 14-point deficit, 5-19, early in the game but quickly regrouped to turn the game around.

Jayson Castro, the hero in Gilas’ first victory against Japan on Friday, once again led the Philippines, finishing with a team-high 20 points on 7-of-12 shooting in over 24 minutes of action. He also collected four rebounds and four assists.

June Mar Fajardo played his best game yet as a Gilas frontliner, blasting away with 17 points, along with eight rebounds, two assists, and two blocks in over 23 minutes. He scored nine of his points in the first half when he came in to replace a sluggish Andray Blatche. The four-time PBA MVP joined forces with Calvin Abueva and Kiefer Ravena to rally Gilas from a 17-3 deficit after Chinese Taipei naturalized player Quincy Davis scored 12 straight points in the opening period.

Matthew Wright and Roger Pogoy added 11 points each, with Wright scoring all his points, including 3-of-4 from three-point range, in the fourth quarter, along with 2 rebounds and 3 assists.

Ravena played for just 16 minutes but still managed to produce nine points, five assists, two boards, and one steal.

Abueva added eight points, three boards, three assists, and three steals in 20 minutes.

Blatche did little on the offensive end, scoring just six points on 2-of-9 shooting, including 0-of-5 from beyond the three-point arc, and committed six turnovers. However, the naturalized center shone on defense, leading Gilas in rebounds with 14 on top of five blocks, three assists, and one steal in 28 minutes.

Davis led Chinese-Taipei with 20 points and nine boards before fouling out after less than 22 minutes on the court.

With their two wins, the Philippines joins Australia for the lead in Group B. Gilas Pilipinas earlier defeated Japan last Friday, 77-71.

The Philippines resumes its FIBA Asia campaign next year on Feb. 22 against powerhouse Australia on the latter’s homecourt before taking on Japan at home three nights later. Just like the Philippines, Australia also defeated Chinese Taipei, 104-66, on Friday and Japan, 82-58, on Monday in the first window of the FIBA World Cup qualifier.

Japan and Chinese-Taipei are now at 0-2 in Group B.

After trailing by 14 points in the first quarter, the Filipinos unleashed a 10-0 run to get back into the game. Led by the bench trio of Fajardo, Abueva, and Ravena, Gilas finally seized the lead in the second quarter and led 44-42 at halftime.

The Filipinos and Taiwanese fought tooth-and-nail in the second half, keeping the score close. With Gilas up by just a point midway in the final quarter, Castro scored on a three-point play, which triggered a 9-2 run, boosting Gilas’ lead to eight, 84-76, with less than four minutes left.

Ravena drew Davis’ fifth and final foul, removing Chinese-Taipei’s top scoring threat on the court. Ravena then nailed two free throws to give the Philippines its biggest lead, 86-76, with less than two minutes left.

Castro then finished off Chinese-Taipei with four more points.

The scores:

PHILIPPINES 90 – Castro 20, Fajardo 17, Wright 11, Pogoy 11, Ravena 9, Abueva 8, Blatche 6, Norwood 5, Aguilar 3

CHINESE-TAIPEI 83 – Davis 20, Chou Y. 17, Huang 16, Liu 7, Tsai 6, Lee 6, Chou P.C. 4, Chou P.H. 3, Chen 2, Chiang 2, Hu 0, Lu 0

Quarterscores: 18-23; 44-42; 65-64; 90-83.