Home Economy Nationals shocker: Huge win over world No. 6 Latvia in Arena Riga

Nationals shocker: Huge win over world No. 6 Latvia in Arena Riga


AND shock the world Gilas Pilipinas did.

Not given much of a chance against a high-powered, seemingly unstoppable Latvia backed by a horde of home supporters, the gritty Nationals defied doubters and delivered a hell of a performance that would go down as one of the greatest victories in Philippine basketball history.

Coach Tim Cone and his gutsy Gilas 11 toppled the world No. 6 and heavily favored Latvians in the latter’s own backyard, 89-80, as they set their bid in the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament off to a flying start early Thursday at the Arena Riga.

Unlike in the hosts’ previous 83-55 romp over Georgia in the Group A opener where they were untouchable, the fearless Filipinos asserted themselves and got the Latvians in a vice-grip in virtually all of 40 minutes, sending kababayans back home who stayed up in the wee hours for the live broadcast of game in a frenzy.

That massive reversal marked the first time for the Philippines to beat a European opponent in a FIBA tournament after 64 long years. Last time was an 84-82 verdict over Spain in the 1960 Rome Olympics.

In the scheme of things in this ongoing FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament for the Paris Games, the Pinoy cagers are now in good position to advance to the crossover semifinals either as top seed or second-placed team in the group.

A win against No. 23 Georgia (0-1) last night would make this possible. But a defeat would still suffice provided the losing margin would be 18 points or less; lose by 19 and it would be the Georgians following the Latvians (1-1) to the next stage instead.

“We’re happy about it, we’re proud of it. But it’s just one game and we’re not here to just win one game. We’re here to do what we can to get to the finals and maybe a trip to Paris,” Mr. Cone said in an interview on One Sports.

“This is one step for us but just a baby step. We’ve got more steps ahead of us. We’re not going to get too high with this win (as) we have more to do.”

Justin Brownlee sizzled with 26 big points and went a rebound and an assist shy of a triple-double output in the one-for-the-books takedown of Latvia, a team that defeated Spain, France, Lithuania and Italy en route to fifth place in the 2023 FIBA World Cup in Manila.

Mr. Brownlee highlighted his superb play with clutch hits from everywhere that helped Gilas create separation and lead by as many as 26 points plus a dagger four-point play that quelled the hosts’ fourth-quarter rally and stunned the predominantly Latvian fans in the 8,835-strong crowd.

“The world doesn’t really know much about Justin Brownlee, but for me, he is the Michael Jordan of Philippines basketball. That’s what we expected him to do and that is what he does every night,” Kai Sotto, who had 18 and eight, said of the Gilas naturalized player.

“I appreciate this coming from Kai, but I’m just out there trying to do my best, trying to do whatever I can to help the team win,” said Mr. Brownlee. — Olmin Leyba

The Scores

Philippines 89 — Brownlee 26, Sotto 18, Ramos 12, Fajardo 11, Newsome 10, Perez 6, Quiambao 3, Aguilar 2, Tamayo 1, Oftana 0.

Latvia 80 — Kurucs 18, Dav. Bertans 10, Strelnieks 10, Zoriks 10, Smits 9, Strautins 6, Lomazs 6, Dar. Bertans 5, Timma 3, Cavars 2, Mejeris 1.

Quarterscores: 32-16; 54-38; 67-56; 89-80.

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