MANILA, Philippines—For a moment, it looked as though the Philippines would be in trouble against Vietnam in their Group A game in the 30th Southeast Asian Games.
Gilas Pilipinas was having trouble breaking the game open, as the hosts' shots were not falling, their passes were being tipped, and Vietnam was getting to the line. A pair of charities by Justin Young knotted the count at 16 with some three minutes to go in the first frame.
It turned out to be the last time that Vietnam got close. The entry of LA Tenorio and Marcio Lassiter injected a dose of energy into the national team, and June Mar Fajardo began to impose his will inside the paint.
Momentum shifted to Gilas for good when Tenorio drew a foul on a 3-pointer, and made all three charities for a 27-19 lead after the first quarter. The Filipinos kept pulling away in the second, en route to a 110-69 rout.
"We expect ourselves to wear down teams," said head coach Tim Cone. "We're 12 men deep, and any of the 12 can go out and be a force, so we just have to be careful we don't try to do everything right away in the first quarter."
"We just gotta be patient and let our games speak for ourselves and continue to play, and we feel we can wear teams down with our depth and our talent," he added.
That was exactly what happened against Vietnam. The lead was still manageable at the half — Gilas led just 52-40 — but the Filipinos reeled off 10 straight points to open the third frame. Fajardo poured in 12 in the period, and the lead ballooned to 44 in the fourth quarter
Vietnam head coach Kevin Yurkus just commended his players for a battle well-fought, even as he acknowledged that his squad always knew it would struggle against Gilas.
"In the second half, they turned it up a notch, they jumped on us with a 10-0 run in third quarter then it was tough for us to climb back," he said. "But overall, I’m proud of the effort of our guys."
To Cone, the win against Vietnam was a testament to the depth of the national team. Fajardo notched a 23-point, 12-rebound double-double in just 15 minutes; he sat out the entire fourth quarter but there was no drop-off as Greg Slaughter and Vic Manuel came in to dominate the paint.
This is a luxury that other countries in the Southeast Asian region does not have, said Cone.
"You know, it's amazing that we have 12 guys here, maybe the best 12 players in the league," he observed. "But you think about the PBA, I mean, the PBA is 30 players, 40 players deep easily that could play at a high level in the national team."
"And basically, we're playing teams that are national teams, and they're like, six-, seven-players deep," he pointed out. "And to me, the depth of our league, and the depth of this particular team is truly amazing compared to some of the other countries."
Vietnam, for instance, relied heavily on Young and Chris Dierker. The two combined for 41 of their 69 points, but no other player reached double-digits for them.
In contrast, five other players aside from Fajardo scored in double figures for Gilas.
"We can go 40 players deep, and still we don't have a drop-off. So it's really amazing, our depth," said Cone.
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