Gilas stuns Latvia to open FIBA OQT campaign

Justin Brownlee led Gilas to their first-ever FIBA OQT win. FIBA
By Ivan Saldajeno

SAN JUAN, MM--Gilas Pilipinas just tore down a rising force.

The national team showed that they should not be counted out among the traditional basketball strongholds over the years after stunning Latvia, 89-80, at the Arena Riga early Thursday (Philippine Time).

Gilas, ranked 37th in the world, caught Latvia, arguably the hottest national team right now with its sudden rise to the sixth spot, by surprise early on as they opened the game on an 8-0 run before extending it to 16, 32-16, at the end of the first quarter.

Despite Latvia starting to get their shots going, Gilas finished the second quarter strong to keep the gap at 16 entering the halftime break before extending it to as high as 26, 74-48, in the third quarter.

Latvia tried to rally back in the fourth quarter, opening the period on a 13-2 run that cut Gilas' lead down to 10, 79-69, with 4:52 left.

However, Justin Brownlee converted a pull-up jumper off a timeout and later completed a four-point play that basically iced Gilas' win, although Latvia still got to cut the lead to a more respectable one in the end.

Brownlee finished with 26 points, nine rebounds, nine assists, one steal, and one block for Gilas, which now needs to beat Georgia later Thursday or at least keep the game as close as possible to qualify for the semifinals.

Kai Sotto added 18 points, eight rebounds, one assist, and one block as Gilas finally won a FIBA OQT game after five tries.

Rodions Kurucs played through foul trouble to lead Latvia with 18 points, seven rebounds, two assists, one steal, and one block.

Despite the loss, Latvia still secured a place in the semifinals as its 83-55 win against Georgia early Wednesday (Philippine Time) was deemed enough for them to hold on.

Latvia could still end up as the top seed in Group A if Georgia beats Gilas.

Meanwhile, a good-sized crowd was at the FilOil EcoOil Centre here for the viewing party hosted by Baygon.

Some fans braved having to wake up during the wee hours to watch Gilas in action on the giant screen of the said arena.

Another viewing party is set later Thursday as Gilas looks to seal the semifinal spot against Georgia.

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