By Jerome Lagunzad
(Foshan Lingnan Mingzhu Gymnasium)
11 a.m. – Australia vs Batang Gilas
With towering center Kai Sotto anchoring its defense, Batang Gilas overcame a game-long shooting struggle against familiar rival Malaysia, 62-57, yesterday for a so-so start in the FIBA Asia Under-16 championships at the Foshan Lingnan Mingzhu Gymnasium in Foshan, China.
The 7-foot-1 Sotto, considered as the next big thing among the continent’s promising ballers, hauled down a game-high 16 rebounds and swatted four blocks on top of 12 points, providing Batang Gilas enough presence to offset its paltry shooting.
La Salle-Zobel center Raven Cortez also came up big with his own double-double of 12 points and as many rebounds on top of two steals as he gave Batang Gilas a much-needed lift in a little over 18 minutes of play off the bench.
The stellar contributions of Sotto and the 6-foot-7 Cortez came in handy for the PH side since its main snipers, veterans Terrence Fortea, Forthsky Padrigao and RC Calimag, couldn’t find their mark, making just two of their 27 attempts beyond the arc.
Fortea, the top gunner of National University, finished with a team-high 15 points, spiked by a lone trey, despite an anemic 6-of-21 shooting from the field while Padrigao, who accounted for the other made triple, and Calimag teamed up for just 11 points on a horrendous 3-of-21 clip.
The Batang Gilas also didn’t fare well from the 15-foot line where it could only make 12 of its 30 tries, with Sotto also struggling to get his rhythm after making just two of his 10 attempts.
John Tang led all scorers with 17 points, highlighted by five three-point conversions, on 6-of-13 clip but his fellow Malaysians groped for form against their PH counterparts’ stymieing defense which forced them to miss 46 of their 59 tries.
Still, the Malaysians proved to be a tough nut to crack for the favored Batang Gilas, which only found its groove in the second period behind its 19-point explosion and built a lead as high of 13 points at 59-46 with less than four minutes to play.