MANILA, Philippines -- On the verge of a heartbreaking defeat against Malaysia in the women's basketball competition in the 30th Southeast Asian Games, the Gilas Pilipinas Women turned to some unlikely saviors.
Former De La Salle University standout Khate Castillo knocked down two huge threes to knot the count at 74 with over three minutes left, giving the Philippines the momentum it needed.
Danica Jose, the former Ateneo de Manila University center, then wrestled for a rebound and drew a foul with just 3:01 to go, and her split at the line put the Gilas Women ahead for good.
The usual suspects closed the game out for the Philippines: Janine Pontejos nailed a clutch runner, and Afril Bernardino's two free throws iced the game and her own sensational performance.
Yet head coach Pat Aquino was the first to point out that the Philippines' 81-75 triumph would not have happened without the contributions of their less heralded players -- the reserves who went in and got them back in the game after Malaysia had threatened to pull away in the fourth quarter.
"Just so happy with the girls and sobrang proud ako sa kanilang lahat," said Aquino after the victory, which set up a gold medal game against Thailand on Tuesday.
"Siyempre, si Khate Castillo, Janine Pontejos, Danica Jose who came out really big, blocking two shots, getting rebounds, stealing the ball, and then Jack (Animam), wala na akong masabi," he added. "These girls really wanted this."
Aquino also noted the contributions of Adamson University star Mar Prado, who has yet to find her shooting in the SEA Games but made up for it with tenacious defense and hustle.
For the multi-titled mentor, the strong play of their reserves was a testament to the hard work they put in and the experience they gained in the numerous tournaments that the Gilas Pilipinas Women's team have joined over the past couple of years.
"Siguro, the past tournaments na ginagawa namin, we never gave up on them even though they're the second stringer," Aquino said. "We tried to push them."
"Ito 'yun, lumabas 'yung ginawa namin before, the experiences na even though you're a second stringer, meron kang part dito sa team. Hindi ka lang pang-sub," he added. "You can make it big, and they did."
"They did make it big."
Castillo was thankful for the confidence that her teammates and her coaches had in her, particularly in the final quarter when her outside shooting helped them work their way back into the contest.
"Katulad ng sinabi ni Coach Pat, 'pag open, take it lang," said Castillo, who made three of her five attempts from beyond the arc.
"Lahat kami, kapag may open, ititira lang. Kasi ang sarap sa feeling kapag sinabihan ka ng coach mo ng ganoon, kaysa 'yung parang pinipigialn kang tumira," she added. "Kami, laro lang kami."
With the Philippines now just one win away from a breakthrough gold medal in women's basketball, Castillo and the rest of the Filipinas are determined to carry their confidence and momentum into their game against Thailand on Tuesday.
Yet they also remain wary, knowing the strength of the Thai squad that features WNBA player Tiffany Bias.
"Siyempre, hindi namin pwedeng isipin na parang, 'Ay mag-go-gold na kami'," said Castillo. "Dapat, kung ano 'yung ginawa namin in the first game, ganoon lang."
"Kailangan, mag-step up din lahat. 'Yun lang," she added.
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