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3 Gilas Women players among top performers in FIBA Asia Cup

MANILA, Philippines, July 4 ------ Gilas Women put on a performance for the ages in the 2023 FIBA Women’s Asia Cup as they won in the group stage for the first time since their Division A promotion in 2015 and finished sixth – their highest placing since 1984.

After an atrocious debut against 2022’s FIBA Women’s World Cup third-placer Australia, Gilas Women started to find their groove in their next game against Tokyo Olympic silver medalists Japan. Things really came together when they pulled off a 92-81 stunner over Chinese Taipei, a team the Philippines lost to by huge margins in past editions. Tough defeats to world No. 29 New Zealand (78-83) and No. 12 South Korea (71-80) – two games where Gilas Women had their fair chances to win – sent a statement loud enough for the rest of the basketball world to hear: the Philippines not only belongs among the upper echelon in Asia, but it is also closing in on world-caliber teams.

It was a total team effort, with coach Patrick Aquino drawing out contributions from every member of the squad. Aquino employed platoon substitutions since the team’s frenetic pace on both ends necessitated having fresh legs on the floor every second of the game. Three players, though, stood out for the Gilas Women. Afril Bernardino, Jack Animam, and Vanessa de Jesus emerged among the best individual performers in the entire tournament.

All-around ace

As has been her trademark in all previous tournaments when she donned the Philippine jersey, Bernardino dazzled with her sleek penetrations and overall brilliance. Bernardino tied with Lebanon’s best player Rebecca Akl as the eighth-best scorer of the Asia Cup with an average of 13 points. Bernardino was Gilas Women’s best scorer. Her offensive output was a result not of volume shooting but of efficiency, with her 52.9% clip ranking fifth in shooting percentage among all players.

Listed officially on the FIBA site at 5-foot-8, Bernardino once again played above her height for the undersized Gilas. Bernardino ranked sixth in rebounding with 7.7 boards, the only player in the top 10 who stands below six feet. She also finished seventh in blocks with 1 per game despite being the shortest in the top 10 and second in steals with a 2.2 average. Bernardino ranked sixth in efficiency in the entire tournament.

Inside pillar

The Asia Cup saw the resurgence of Animam, who proved she is close to getting back to the pre-injury level of play she displayed when she was a dominant force as an import in Serbia in 2021. Animam had back-to-back double-double games of 16-15 and 14-11 against Chinese Taipei and New Zealand, respectively. As the only legitimate center in the Gilas roster, Animam held her own against opposing teams, which enjoyed deep rotations of bigs.

The 6-foot-3 Animam finished third overall in rebounding with an average of 9.6 boards, just behind tournament MVP and New York Liberty 6-foot-10 center Han Xu of China, who collared 12.6 rebounds, and 6-foot-3 Penina Davidson of New Zealand, who grabbed 9.8 boards.

Animam was Gilas Women’s rim protector and last line of defense, and this was evident in her registering 0.9 blocks and 1.4 steals, ranking ninth overall in both statistical categories. The Bulacan native also delivered offensively, leading the entire competition in two-point field goal accuracy with 65.7% en route to averaging 10 points.

New star

The entry of De Jesus proved to be the main difference-maker for the Philippines. The 21-year-old’s court generalship was of a quality that the Gilas squad did not have before, and it translated to a brand of play that the TV commentators described as chaotic but never reckless and rarely out-of-control. De Jesus ended up as Gilas Women’s second-leading scorer with 12.8 points, good for 10th overall among all players. She placed 11th in two-point field goal shooting with 42% and led the Philippines in assists with 3.2 per showing. The Duke University point guard was at her deadliest in the win over Chinese Taipei, where she exploded for 25 points on 11-of-19 shooting on top of 4 assists and 2 steals.

There is a sense that if the core of the team that played in Australia could be retained, infused with players to plug in areas the squad needs help on, and exposed to more major international competitions, Gilas Women could get to the next level pretty soon. Aquino and his coaching staff have a solid core in Bernardino, Animam, and De Jesus, whose leadership and play will be the foundation that the Gilas Women program should be built upon.



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