By JONAS TERRADO
(Mall of Asia Arena)
7:30 p.m. – Philippines vs Japan
Jayson Castro, Troy Rosario and Jio Jalalon will make their return tonight as Gilas Pilipinas tries to bounce back and secure a place in the next round of the 2019 FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers when it hosts Japan at the Mall of Asia Arena.
The three players are out to make up for lost time in the 7:30 p.m. match with the Japanese after being left out of the 12-man roster in Thursday’s 84-68 loss to Australia in Melbourne because of injuries.
Castro and Jalalon were part of the Gilas delegation in Melbourne but coach Chot Reyes opted to rest both, with the former dealing with a sprained ankle and the latter having a slight pain on his leg.
Rosario, meanwhile, stayed in Manila as he had yet to secure clearance from doctors after figuring in a bad fall while playing for TNT KaTropa in a PBA Philippine Cup game several weeks ago.
Left out of the lineup this time were amateur Abu Tratter, Carl Bryan Cruz and Kevin Alas, who made a good account of himself playing the backcourt in spite of Castro and Jalalon’s absence.
Gilas holds the psychological edge over Japan for its 77-71 victory in Tokyo in the first window last November, but Reyes is bracing for a tougher challenge from the visitors who have yet to secure a victory in three matches in Group B.
Japan was coming off a heartbreaking 70-69 home loss to Taiwan last Thursday.
“We all know the adjustments are technical in nature, but the real thing in this game is we’re playing a team that is fighting for its life,” said Reyes in a Facebook live video announcing the 12-man roster.
“Basically, it is two teams fighting for a very big cause and it’s going to depend really on which team executes better.”
June Mar Fajardo, naturalized player Andray Blatche and Kiefer Ravena are expected to play vital roles anew while Matthew Wright, Gabe Norwood, Japeth Aguilar, RR Pogoy, Calvin Abueva and Allein Maliksi were once again placed on the roster in hopes of providing the needed contributions.
Reyes was quick to defend Blatche from critics who felt the former NBA player and Chinese league veteran has performed lower than expected.
Blatche is averaging 9.0 points, 11.3 rebounds and 3.3 blocks in the Group B qualifiers, shooting 9-of-31 (29%) from the field.
“His value goes beyond pts & rebounds. We have his back,” Reyes said as part of his Twitter post yesterday.