Gilas Pilipinas Women captured its first-ever gold medal in the Southeast Asian Games with a 91-71 thumping of Thailand on Tuesday at the Mall of Asia Arena.
The gold has eluded the Philippine women's national basketball team since joining the biennial competitions in 1981.
Jack Animam powered her way to a strong performance of 21 points on an efficient 9-for-10 shooting while adding five rebounds and two blocks. Janine Pontejos fired 16 points, including three triples and was a defensive gem with four steals. Afril Bernardino, who had a monster double-double against Malaysia, pulled down 14 rebounds to go with 10 points.
The Philippines swept the women's competition, defeating Indonesia and Malaysia, before toppling five-time champion Thailand.
"Incredible game. They never stopped," said national head coach Pat Aquino. "We were up by (10) in the second quarter. I know Thailand was gonna come back and they did.
"I was telling the guys to just settle down, just keep on doing what we talked about, and just keep on fighting, and that's what we did in the third quarter. We had a breakout game in the third"
As Aquino said, Gilas pulled away after the break, turning a two-point lead into a 68-52 advantage entering the fourth quarter. Led by eight points from Animam, the home team outscored the visitors, 23-9, in the third.
"Jack was tremendous, Afril was there. Everybody supported, Khate Castillo, Janine Pontejos. Everybody," said Aquino. "I'm just so happy for the girls, for what they achieved."
Khate Castillo and Kelly Hayes also got into the scoring for the Philippines, tallying 11 points apiece. Gilas shot 48 percent from the field while limiting its opponent to just 40 percent.
Things went from bad to worse for Thailand after halftime as point guard Tiffany Bias was called for her fourth foul late in the third. Bias led Thailand with 15 points, four rebounds, four assists, and three steals. Supavadee Kunchuan and Rattiyakorn Udomsuk put up 12 points apiece in the loss.
Thailand tried to mount numerous comebacks but was foiled each time. Bernardino connected on a and-1 play to push the score to 85-66 with 2:30 remaining as Gilas continued to pull away.
The Philippines was coming off fourth-place finishes in 2015 and 2017 before winning gold in 2019.
"Now, I hope we get noticed. It's been a long time, we've been doing this since 2015, and now the gold is with us," said Aquino. "I'm just so happy. I'm happy not just for the girls only but for the whole country and the women's side."
Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas president Al Panlilio was equally ecstatic with the win.
"The SBP congratulates coach Patrick Aquino and all the members of the team as this is surely the fitting reward to the hard work that they have put in throughout the years. We also thank the countless individuals who have invested in Philippine women's basketball from the beginning as this success is also built from their sacrifices," Panlilio said in a statement. "The SBP strongly believes that this is just the beginning as there's a brighter future ahead for our Gilas Pilipinas Women."
PHILIPPINES 91 -- Animam 21, Pontejos 16, Hayes 11, Castillo 11, Bernardino 10, Cabinbin 7, Jose 6, Nabalan 5, Prado 2, Castro 2, Tongco 0, Chan 0.
THAILAND 71 -- Bias 15, Kunchuan 12, Udomsuk 12, Yothanan 10, Kaichaiyapoom 5, Maihom 4, Supyen 3, Buapa 3, Klunbut 2, Phromrat 2, Sangmanee 0. Quarters: 27-20, 45-43, 68-52, 91-71.
Before its first gold medal, the Philippines tallied six silvers and five bronze medals in the SEA Games.
Bias, who plays for the New York Liberty in the WNBA, averaged 18.5 points, 8.0 assists, 7.5 rebounds and 3.5 steals her first two games but struggled against the Gilas defense.