CHANGSHA, China -- After falling short in their first two games, the Gilas Pilipinas men's 3x3 team went undefeated in the second day of competitions of 2019 FIBA 3x3 Asia Cup in Changsha, China. However, it was not enough as Qatar booked the group's lone ticket to the tournament's main draw.
Even though they didn't advance to the main draw, the squad will head home with heads held high as they proved they can not only compete but even win with only three players.
Playing without a substitute as Ricci Rivero was still recovering from an ankle sprain he suffered in their first game, RJ Abarrientos, Rhayyan Amsali, and Barkley Ebona took on the undefeated Iran squad that towered over them. The Asian powerhouse had a 6-foot-7 player and their shortest member stood at 6-foot-4.
In comparison, the average height of the Filipino players is 6-foot-2 inches.
However, it was the smallest guy player on the floor who showed the biggest heart. Abarrientos powered the offense for the Philippines as they held Iran to a deadlock at 10-all halfway through the match.
Unfortunately for the Philippines, they entered the penalty situation, which meant every foul would lead to two free throws for Iran. They had no other choice but to be extra physical against their much bigger foes.
Still, Abarrientos would not give up. He tweaked his ankle after drawing a foul off converting on a two-point shot. He'd get another three-point play a few possessions later to get the team to 19 points.
With Iran's defense already knowing exactly where the ball was going, Abarrientos took charge and launched a long two. The ball was still bouncing around the rim but Abarrientos turned his back as he knew it was good.
The Philippines dealt Iran their first loss of the tournament 21-19 and won a lot of fans in Changsha because of their spirited effort led by Abarrientos who scored 18 of their 21 points.
Now brimming with confidence after taking down a highly favored opponent, Gilas followed up with another victory as Abarrientos once again shot well from the outside. They defeated Samoa 22-15 with the guard once again landing the killer blow.
"I'm very happy for the players. This win if for Ricci," said head coach Ronnie Magsanoc. "There were only three players and they won. This is the result of their sacrifices for the past month. This is for Ricci and the players and all of the supporters who believed in this team."
The coach certainly has Abarrientos to thank as the 5-foot-11 guard was the star for the Philippines, scoring 32 of the team's 43 points in Day 2.
"We were really down yesterday and we knew it would be tough without Ricci. I just my teammates to go all out, just play with heart," he said.
"I don't want to have regrets. I don't want to think about the things I could have done differently when we get back to the Philippines so I gave it my best."
Abarrientos turned into a crowd favorite as they were anticipating that every shot he launched would go in. When he was not scoring from downtown, he was sending no-look passes to Ebona and Amsali.
"I could not describe how I was feeling earlier," said Abarrientos. "It makes me proud to play for the Philippines, especially when the fans here and the players from other countries started cheering for us. I'm happy they saw what Philippine basketball is all about."
The Gilas Pilipinas 3x3 women's team will be seeing action at 4:40 pm against Vanuatu before starting their campaign in the main draw on Friday.