MANILA, Philippines -- A poor shooting night and some defensive miscues were not about to stop Afril Bernardino from giving her all in the Gilas Pilipinas Women's game against Malaysia on Sunday night at Mall of Asia Arena.
Because of the format of the competition, the Filipinas desperately needed to defeat the reigning champions, to ensure that their game against Thailand on Tuesday will be for the gold. For a while, they looked to be on their way to a comfortable win, leading by 12 points in the third period.
But hot shooting by Malaysia and poor execution by the Filipinas allowed the visitors to recover, and it turned into another down-to-the-wire game for them.
That was when Bernardino went to work. Her shots were not falling -- she made just 7 of 17 shots in the game -- but no one could keep her off the boards. The three-time UAAP MVP grabbed 19 rebounds -- the most by any player in the tournament so far -- and hit the two free throws with under 30 seconds left to ice their 81-75 win.
Bernardino has never been one to tout her achievements, and she predictably downplayed her stunning 18-point, 19-rebound, 3-assist, 3-block line.
"Sa akin is sobrang tulong din sa akin ng teammates ko, especially coach Pat (Aquino), kasi kahit anong pangit ng laro ko, they keep pushing me to play more and more," said Bernardino.
"Hindi nila ako sinukuan, so why na sumuko din ako to get the basketball for our defense, to help," she added.
The hustle and hard work of her teammates fueled Bernardino in the closing minutes. With her teammates spilling into the floor and diving for every loose ball, Bernardino leapt high for rebounds and played tough defense inside the paint despite dealing with foul trouble once more.
With the National U standout leading the way, the Gilas Women set up a gold medal game against Thailand, and Bernardino is ready for another night of hard work. She will be up against a WNBA player in Tiffany Bias, who has averaged 18.5 points per game for her team.
"Siguro play good defense lang and more talking inside, sa defense and sana ma-execute namin ng maayos 'yung plays na ituturo sa amin ni coach Pat," said Bernardino.
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