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Gilas wraps up Clark bubble stint with draw with China in tune-up game

The Philippines' Kai Sotto and China's Zhou Qi acknowledge each other after the two teams' tune-up game ended in a 79-all draw at the AUF Sports and Cultural Center. Carlo Pamintuan

Gilas Pilipinas settled for a 79-all draw with China in an untelevised tune-up game on Wednesday at the AUF Sports and Cultural Center in Angeles City, Pampanga, according to reporting from ESPN5.com's Carlo Pamintuan who was at the venue.

The young Nationals led by seven with over a minute left in the game, but China came through down the stretch with an 8-1 run, including a tip-in at the buzzer that prevented Gilas from coming away with a clear win before they fly out on Thursday for the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament (OQT) in Belgrade.

China, which was down for most of the match, managed to pull within one, 69-68 with under for minutes left in the game, but RJ Abarrientos steadied the ship for Gilas down the stretch by scoring five in a 9-3 burst to give the Philippines a commanding 78-71 lead with 1:07 left in the game.

The visitors rallied back and scored four straight points to pull closer, 78-75. Jordan Heading gave the locals a bit of a buffer by sinking one free throw to give Gilas a 79-75 lead with 31 seconds left, but a foul from SJ Belangel kept the door open for China, which split its free throws and went back to the line after a duty foul from Geo Chiu with 1.2 seconds left.

There, China went 1-for-2 with 7'5" Chuanxing Liu tipping in the putback at the buzzer after the missed the second free throw.

Kai Sotto led Gilas by putting up 13 points, with 11 coming in a decisive second period where the hosts led by as many as 10. Naturalized big man Ange Kouame and Jordan Heading added 12 each, while Abarrientos threw in nine markers. Justine Baltazar and Will Navarro also contributed eight each.

Gilas played without Carl Tamayo, who is still recovering from a sprained ankle he sustained last week against Indonesia in the 2021 FIBA Asia Cup qualifiers, and Dwight Ramos, who is recuperating from a strained groin. For China, NBA veteran Zhou Qi reportedly did not play.

This Gilas team will now head over to Serbia, where they will take on the hosts and Dominican Republic in the OQT on June 30 and July 1, respectively. Among the 15 players who were in the bubble, two - Javi Gomez de Liaño and Jaydee Tungcab - will not be joining the trip, according to SBP Special Assistant to the President Ryan Gregorio

"Jaydee Tungcab will not be part of the Gilas Pilipinas delegation which is scheduled to depart on June 24," Gregorio said. "After careful deliberation done by the coaching staff, they have decided to go for a taller line-up with emphasis on frontline height and length to compete against bigger teams outside of Asia.

"It is a function of the scouting report. With Dominican Republic and Serbia expected to utilize tall players, our coaches believe that it is a great opportunity for our big men to get valuable experience competing against quality big men from Europe. Jaydee is part of the Gilas pool. He is assured of another call-up after the OQT in Serbia."

On the other hand, Gomez de Liaño suffered an injury prior to the start of the third window, Gregorio said.

"I was informed that Javi injured his quad muscles in practice while preparing for the bubble in Clark, Pampanga. He tried to shake it off by playing through it, unfortunately his natural movements were affected. He will miss the OQT tournament in Serbia and was advised to rest and rehabilitate his injured quad muscles."

China, on the other hand, will fly out to Victoria, Canada for its own OQT campaign against the hosts and Greece on July 1 and 2.

Gilas Pilipinas individual scores: Sotto 13, Kouame 12, Heading 12, Abarrientos 9, Baltazar 8, Navarro 8, Nieto 6, Chiu 4, Lopez 3.

With additional reporting from Philip Matel.