Even though the SMART-Gilas Pilipinas national team lost to China, 71-68, to open the FIBA Asia Cup in Tokyo, Japan, the Philippine squad proved that adage true by showing that it could go head-to-head against a much taller squad.
The Chinese, with an average height of 6-foot-8, enjoyed a big size advantage against the Filipinos, who had an average height of 6-foot-4. Despite the size difference, SMART-Gilas held China to 38 percent shooting from the field, fighting hard not to give any easy looks to the Asian powerhouse.
And even though China lorded over the rebounds, 58-31, SMART-Gilas made up the difference by forcing 10 more turnovers against its less-experienced counterparts, 22-12.
The Filipinos forced China’s star guard Guo Ailun, a member of his country’s Olympics team, to four turnovers. SMART-Gilas also hounded prized 18-year-old center Wang Zheilin to just six points and five turnovers. Wang, who battled foul trouble throughout the game, did use his size and athleticism to grab 14 rebounds.
In the end, however, it was outside shooting, or lack thereof, that spelled doom for the Philippines. Early in the game, after repeated incursions by SMART-Gilas slashers into the shaded lane, Chinese coach Fan Bin decided to go into a zone, virtually daring Filipino shooters to try to beat them from the outside.
But the Philippine gunners kept firing blanks. Larry Fonacier shot just 2-of-7 from beyond the arc, while Gary David and Jeff Chan each shot 1-of-7. LA Tenorio was 1-of-5, while Ranidel De Ocampo hit none of his five three-point attempts. As a team, SMART-Gilas shot a miserable 6-of-35 (17 percent) from three-point distance.
SMART-Gilas’ shot four three-pointers to try to tie the game in the dying seconds, missing all of them. Here’s hoping those shots drop for the Philippines for the rest of its campaign in the FIBA Asia Cup.