It's do-or-die for Smart Gilas-Pilipinas when the quarterfinal stage of the 26th FIBA-Asia Championship For Men begins Friday at the Wuhan gymnasium in China.
The Nationals will be up against Chinese Taipei at 6 p.m., one of four knockout matches set for the day. Winners will advance to a similar do-or-die encounter in the semis on Saturday.
As the second-ranked team in Group F, the Nationals earned the right of facing the Taiwanese, who finished third in Group E. Chinese Taipei has not won over the Philippines in the last two years.
Gilas swept Chinese Taipei in the four games they played, including two in this year's Jones Cup basketball tournament where they won by an average of 11.0 points, the last of which an 82-72 decision in the battle for the bronze.
Despite the Nationals' winning record against the Taiwanese, coach Rajko Toroman believes Chinese Taipei remains a dangerous foe. "You'll never know what will be going on with Chinese Taipei."
Toroman said Chinese Taipei appeared to be a better team today compared to last month's Jones Cup, having finished third in Group E after the second round for a 3-2 (win-loss card).
Still, he remains wary of what the Taiwanese could do. "If their outside players started to shoot the ball well, we'll be in trouble," the Serbian coach said.
On top of Totoman's radar are star player Lin Chih-chieh and inside banger Wen-Ting Tseng, both of whom are playing in the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA).
The 29-year-old Lin, as a testament to his playing ability, just finished a two-year contract with CBA team Zheijang Lions, who signed him in 2009 for a monthly salary of $15,000 (roughly P630,000).
Toroman said he believes Gilas has the right tools to contain Chinese Taipei's streak-shooting forward just what like they did to prolific Japanese shooter Takuya Kawamura, who has limited to 12 points on a 3-of-11 clip in the Nationals' 83-76 win.
"This is the reason why I'm optimistic, although the most important thing now is still the quarterfinals," said the 52-year-old Toroman, who guided Iran to the 2008 Beijing Olympics after winning the FIBA-Asia championship a year before.
A win by Gilas meant surpassing the eighth place finish of the Philippine team during the 2009 staging of the tournament and marked the first time in a long while the country will be in the Final Four.
A win will also put Gilas and Toroman in a showdown against his former team Iran, if the two-time defending champions get past Jordan, in the next round.
The other knockout matches feature two-time defending champion and Group E top team Iran against Jordan, South Korea versus Japan, and Group F No. 1 squad and host China opposite Lebanon. — JVP, GMA News