In a surprising upset over Latvia, Gilas Pilipinas maintain their Olympic dream

Jul 4, 2024

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MANILA, Philippines – Gilas Pilipinas defeated hosts Latvia on Wednesday to begin their Olympic Qualifying Tournament with a bang thanks to a strong performance from Justin Brownlee. 

After shocking Latvia 89-80 in their Olympic Qualifying Tournament opener on Wednesday, Gilas Pilipinas has solidified their place in the running for a dream trip at the 2018 Paris Games. This is a first since the 1960s, for the PH to win against a European powerhouse.

Coach Tim Cone remarked during the press conference following the victory, “I’m totally shocked to be sitting here in front of you guys after winning this basketball game. This is not something we thought we were going to do.”

The Philippines never gave up after jumping out to an incredible 32-16 lead in the first quarter, and they led by 21 points at the half.

They had to weather a nerve-wracking fourth quarter in which Latvia threatened to launch an unexpected comeback, outscoring them 11-2 at one point.

Even yet, Gilas managed to maintain enough momentum to begin their qualifying campaign flawlessly, even if they lost the last period 24–12.

With this victory, the Philippines hopes to snap a 52-year drought and qualify for the Olympic men’s basketball competition for the first time in 64 years against a European team.

“Anytime you can get to the international arena and have success, that’s a huge feather in your cap,” Cone stated. “This is a big huge step for us to be able to play a Latvia team at home, and go at them face-to-face, and come out with a win. It’s amazing, it’s amazing for us.”

Philippines’ Justin Brownlee led the way with 26 points and nine rebounds, all team highs. Kai Sotto also contributed well with 18 and 8, respectively.

The fact that Latvia, who also had home court advantage at this OQT in Riga, is now ranked sixth in the FIBA global rankings despite missing Boston Celtics star and recent NBA champion Kristaps Porziņļis due to injury, made the triumph all the more remarkable.

The Philippines will play Georgia on Thursday after the latter team lost to the Latvians on Tuesday, 83-55.

Only one team will be able to secure a trip to Paris; the top two teams from each of the two groups in each OQT will move on to the semifinals and final.

Despite their shocking setback on Wednesday, Latvia will still go to the semifinals because, should Georgia lose and all three teams end with the same number of points, their +19 point differential may be surpassed by either of the other two Group A teams.

Group B is presently being led by Montenegro, who are one point ahead of Brazil and two ahead of Cameroon, who play each other on Thursday.

If Gilas can prevent a 37-point swing in the rankings, they can still advance to the last four even if they lose against the Georgians on Thursday.

Cone declared, “We’re not here just to win one game.” “We really want to try to get to the finals and see what happens if we get to the finals. That’s really the goal.”

Another lucky break came at the conclusion of the first quarter when CJ Perez made a buzzer-beating three-pointer that gave the Philippines a 32-16 lead.

In the third quarter, Gilas went on an 11-0 run to increase their advantage to 74-48. This substantial margin was sufficient to withstand Latvia’s late rally.

Fajardo finished with 11 points, five boards, and three steals, while Dwight Ramos contributed 12 points, seven rebounds, and four assists. While handling most of the ball handling duties for Tim Cone’s side, Newsome tallied ten points.

Scores at the end of the match:

Philippines with 89 points for the win

Individual Scores: Brownlee 26, Sotto 18, Ramos 12, Fajardo 11, Newsome 10, Perez 6, Quiambao 3, Aguilar 2, Tamayo 1, Oftana 0.

Latvia with 80 points

Kurucs 18, Dav. Bertans 10, Strelnieks 10, Zoriks 10, Smits 9, Strautins 6, Lomas 6, Dar. Bertans 5, Timma 3, Mejeris 1.

Scores per quarter

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

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