FOSHAN, China -- Gilas Pilipinas will be challenged immediately in the FIBA World Cup beginning Saturday against Italy, the No. 13 ranked country according to the FIBA World Ranking.
The Philippines and Italy last faced off in 2016 in Bologna, Italy for a pocket tournament that was part of Gilas' build for the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament later that year.
Italy beat that Philippine team by 36 points and were led by NBA player Danilo Gallinari. At the time, the Philippines was ranked seven spots higher than Italy.
In preparation for the FIBA World Cup, Italy played in a pocket tournament -- the Acropolis Tournament -- earlier this month in Greece.
Italy lost all their games, including a 32-point loss to fellow Group D member Serbia. The Italian national team, however, didn't have Gallinari and Luigi Datome in Greece. Gallinari sat the games out after undergoing appendectomy, while Datome was still rehabbing his knee injury.
But the two key players are healthy and back in the fold for Italy.
Gilas assistant coach Sandy Arespacochaga arrived in China earlier than the Philippine team and was able to break down some of Italy's final tuneup games.
"We saw their latest games with Danilo Gallinari and Luigi Datome, so we saw more or less what their rotation would look like, and what their plays are based on the new players. And we got to see more or less how they would run their offense and their defense," said Arespacochaga.
"They have a lot of post-up plays, not for their center, but for their point guard, shooting guard, small forward, and power forward. ... They're international players with a lot of experience. ... They also like to make the extra pass. So our defense has to be very solid against this team. They have a lot of weapons that we have to stop."
Gilas head coach Yeng Guiao has had to adjust the team's plans now that Gallinari and Datome are expected to suit up for Saturday's opening matchup.
"All of a sudden, that gives them additional shooters aside from Marco Belinelli and (Daniel) Hackett, and (Amedeo) Dela Valle," said Arespacochaga. "So we've got to come up with a good defensive scheme against some of these guys, especially posting up. So I think that would be key - how we play defense against their post-ups, against their shooters and against their pick-and-roll because they run a lot of pick-and-rolls also."
Guiao is hoping Italy underestimates the Philippines and that his coaching staff has done more homework than their foes.
"I don't know if they've scouted us as thoroughly as we've scouted them because they won't get anything on us, we've done most (of our preparations) behind closed doors - in Spain and in the Philippines. I'm hoping that will work for us. We have a ton of material on them. I hope they remember that last game so they relax against us," he said.
Guiao drilled his players Friday on defending Italy's post-ups and shooters, knowing that beating Italy is their best chance to advance to the next round.
"We just have to play to (Gallinari's) tendencies. We all know how good he is, he's an NBA player. We'll just try to limit him as much as possible," said Japeth Aguilar.
"The coaching staff pointed out their tendencies," Gabe Norwood chimed in. "Our scouting staff has done a great job of getting us mentally ready in terms of what to expect. There's little details between myself and Troy (Rosario), since we're probably playing the small forward spot the most, that we have to apply. Hopefully we can disrupt them and make things difficult."
"Our best chance (to advance) is to win against Angola, and then we make the next round," said Guiao. "That's how important the Italy game is. It's make or break for us. If we win over Italy, we'll probably make the next round. If we lose to Italy, we probably won't make the next round. It's that important."