DUBAI – Smart Gilas Pilipinas flashed its resiliency as it battled back
from 15 points down to repulse Al Jazeera of Egypt, 82-78, and barge into the
semifinal round of the 21st Dubai Invitational at the Al Ahli Indoor Stadium
here early Thursday.
Mac Baracael, a 24-year-old pride of Pagbilao, Quezon, sizzled with tournament-high
24 points, including a fallaway jumper in the last two minutes that gave the
Filipinos the lead for good.
Skipper Chris Tiu then took over and drained five of his six free throws
in the last 14.8 seconds to complete the Nationals’ stirring comeback from 15
points down for the victory that set them up against Al Riyadi of Lebanon on
Friday (11 p.m. RP time).
Al Riyadi, backstopped by three American imports and two naturalized
players, turned back Fadi El Khatib and Champville also of Lebanon, 74-67, to
clinch the first semis seat.
“The guys played with a big fighting heart,” said RP’s Serbian
coach Rajko Toroman. “We were up from the start then we were down by 15
points and then rallied back and win the game. It’s amazing what we’re doing in
this tournament. I’m very satisfied and very proud of the players.”
The Filipinos, whose campaign here is sponsored by Smart and backed by
Nike and GMA Pinoy TV, also drew inspiration from more 2,500 OFWs who came to watch
and cheer them.
The taller, heftier Egyptians didn’t force the issue in the shaded lane
as they flaunted their shooting prowess, making eight triples, including three
by Sherif Gunaidi. But the gritty Filipinos switched from man-to-man to zone
defense then back to man-to-man to stifle Al Jazeera’s top gunners.
“They punished us with three-point shooting and it was very
difficult but these things showed the character of the team,” said
“We were coming from 15 points down and I changed from zone to
man-to-man because they put a big guy and we could not control his outside
shot,” he said.
Noli Eala, Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas executive director and head
of the RP delegation, said the team’s semis appearance is already a feat in
“Egypt was a very tough team, well coached and has good system plus
they were very aggressive. But I think in the end we showed we can match up
with their energy and that’s really the key to victory,” Eala said.
Eala said SBP chief Manny V. Pangilinan congratulated the team through
text and exhorted them to strive for more.
“He (Pangilinan) texted and he’s very happy, very proud of the team
asking the team to continue improving, getting better by the game. If victories
come, if finals will come, it will really be a big blessing,” said Eala.
“But the most important thing is that we continue to improve the
team so that we’ll be ready for the bigger and most important tournaments
ahead,” said Eala.
The game also produced a lot of heroes.
There was Marcio Lassiter, a Fil-Am out of CalState Fullerton who
provided the energy on both offense and defense and the talented backcourt
troika of skipper Chris Tiu, JV Casio and Mark Barroca.
Lassiter pumped in 10 points he spiked with two triples then came
through with a steal and a rebound down the stretch while Tiu, Casio and Barroca
kept the team together with their heady plays.
Jason Ballesteros also had a spectacular game as he played 30 minutes
and finished with seven points and seven rebounds while providing added muscle
underneath as American Jamal Sampson hobbled with an injured left knee.
Tiu had nine points, six assists, two steals and two rebounds.
“It was Mac Baracael who played incredibly. Ballesteros played the
entire second half and I think the entire first quarter and that’s hard banging
bodies with those guys, grabbing the crucial rebounds,” said Tiu.
“Everybody contributed, JV made the big plays. We’re very happy
with this win, I’m proud of the guys,” he added.
Smart Gilas notes: After the win, Baracael was approached by an Egyptian
offering him a juicy contract if he decides to play in Egypt as an import. The
former FEU stalwart, however, politely turned down the offer and reiterated his
100-percent commitment to Smart Gilas…For the first time in the tournament,
the Philippines’ national anthem was played before the game+…GMA Pinoy TV, one
of Smart Gilas’ sponsors, provided the Filipinos with RP flaglets.
Smart Gilas 82 – Baracael 24, Barroca 13, Lassiter 10, Tiu 9,
Ballesteros 7, Sampson 4, Casio 9, Aguilar 3, Ababou 3, Cawaling 0
Al Jazeera 78 – Merill 25, Gendy 13, Na’em 12, Mishaal 10, S. Guneidi 9,
R. Guneidi 3, Saled 3, Badr 3, Mahmod 0, Ibrahim 0
Quarterscores: 17-23, 35-44, 58-59, 82-78.(pr)