Whether Gilas Pilipinas gets relegated to the classification round or remains relevant will be known Sunday night when the hosts take on an Angolan side that made powerhouse Italy seemed like a bunch of over-rated dribblers on opening day as hostilities in the FIBA World Cup heat up at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Still reeling from an 87-81 loss to the world No. 23 Dominican Republic at the Philippine Arena in Bulacan, Gilas will have to emerge victorious in their 8 p.m. encounter with the Angolans, who are also on the brink of being ousted from title contention in the 32-team cast.
A victory would keep Gilas, rated No. 40, in the hunt for a slot in the next round.
But based on what Angola showed against No. 10 Italy, getting the job done won’t be easy.
Angola, ranked No. 41, stood toe-to-toe with Italy for much of their 40-minute clash with Bruno Fernando of the Atlanta Hawks and Childe Dundao, a pocket-sized playmaker-gunner, giving Italy serious problems all night long.
Gilas coach Chot Reyes, whose wards committed an appalling 19 turnovers against the Dominicans, insists the Filipinos will have to retool their offense to nullify Angola’s aggressive defensive tactics.
“Angola pressures the ball as much as the Dominican Republic did,” Reyes said.
The top performers of the first game — Jordan Clarkson, JuneMar Fajardo and AJ Edu — are expected to play an important role in this make-or-break duel with the 11-time African champions.
Reyes made special mention of Fajardo, who was a huge presence inside like Edu.
Though Dominican Republic main man Karl-Anthony Towns led the way with 26 points and ten rebounds, it was not as if the 7-footer from the Minnesota Timberwolves turned the shaded lane into his personal playground.
Despite powering the Caribbean nation to a rousing win, Towns had to bleed for his points as Edu made life difficult for him.
Fajardo wound up with 16 points against the Dominicans, figures that made Reyes realize the vital role the six-time Philippine Basketball Association Most Valuable Player plays on the squad.
“I’m sure a lot of people are going to wonder why, but between sitting AJ and June Mar, there’s no opportunity. The match ups just didn’t favor Kai (Sotto). But in the next game and the game after, you’ll be able to see more of him (Sotto),” Reyes said.
Should Gilas oust the Angolans, their third assignment will be against two-time Olympic silver medalist Italy on Tuesday also at the Big Dome in what could turn out to be another Thrilla in Manila.