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Gilas, Saudis collide

Much of the credit should be given to Jong Uichico, who made such a great suggestion in our defensive adjustments.

Fresh from putting an abrupt end to Jordan’s invincibility on home soil, Gilas Pilipinas travels to Jeddah to take on Saudi Arabia Sunday night (12 midnight of Monday, Manila time) in the windup to its two-game Middle East tour of the fifth window of the FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers.

Hostilities fire off at the King Abdullah Sports City with the favored Filipinos aiming to sustain their fiery form following their 74-66 win over Jordan last Friday.

The last time they slugged it out, Gilas carved out a rather easy 84-46 victory over the Saudis at the Mall of Asia Arena.

Tim Cone, one of Gilas Pilipinas’ top coaching minds, recalled the defensive job displayed by the team when it played Saudi Arabia the last time.

“When I came to the Miami Heat camp, one of the significant things I’ve learned from Erik Spoestra was how they defend as a team and that’s what one of the things I tried to bring not just for my team, Barangay Ginebra, but also for Gilas,” Cone told Daily Tribune during the team’s last workout in Manila before flying for the fifth window.

Cone feels his Heat stint didn’t have anything to do with it.

“I’ve only seen the progress at how we defended when we were playing Saudi Arabia. Was it about my stint at the Miami Heat and the things I brought in to Gilas? No. Much of the credit should be given to Jong Uichico, who made such a great suggestion in our defensive adjustments,” Cone added.

Uichico, also a former national player, also serves as Gilas’ lead scout.

In beating Saudi Arabia in their first encounter, Gilas held their rivals to just eight points in the third period and 14 in the fourth when the game was already in the bag.

Against Jordan a few days ago, that defensive intensity was very much evident as Gilas held their counterparts to just 10 points in the third period and halfway past the fourth quarter, the home team could only score six.

The change of phase in defense has been one of the remarkable improvements of the team with players like CJ Perez of San Miguel Beer, Scottie Thompson and Jamie Malonzo of Barangay Ginebra being able to do what they do best on both ends of the floor.

A small but boisterous crowd made up Overseas Filipino Workers is expected to cheer for Gilas just like in the Jordan clash.

Still, the Filipino cagers will be determined to close out their campaign with a big bang and head home with their heads held high.

Kai Sotto, the 7-foot-3 center who plays for the Adelaide 36ers in the National Basketball League Australia, will be a cause of concern for the Saudis.

Aside from the stratospheric Sotto, the Saudis will also have to deal with Perez and Thompson, who both made heads turn with solid showings.

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