Gilas escapes past Iraq to make FIBA Cup q'finals

A buzzer-beater basket from import Milan Vucicevic was all Smart-Gilas Pilipinas needed in erasing the stigma of its three straight defeats.

Vucicevic scored six of his 10 points, including a short basket at the buzzer that propelled the Filipinos to a tense 76-74 win over Duhok-Iraq and into the quarterfinal round of the FIBA Asia Champions Cup at the Al Gharaffa Stadium in Doha, Qatar Wednesday (Thursday morning in Manila).

In a game where their entire campaign is on the line, the Filipinos were facing the specter of ending the tournament winless this year.

But the national team aspirants lived for another day with Mac Baracael and Vucicevic playing their most productive game so far in the event.

Baracael knocked down 22 points while three other local players finished in double figures for the Filipinos, who notched their first win in four tries to enter the last eight of this tournament.

Mark Barroca added 15 points, Chris Tiu contributed 12 and Dylan Ababou provided the spark coming off the bench with 12 markers as the national training pool members showed more firepower for the first time since the start of the tournament.

"The team showed a lot of character, especially during the pressure moments," said Smart-Gilas coach Rajko Toroman. "We had lost a couple of games, which probably we could have won. But then we need these kinds of experiences."

Tiu and Vucicevic conspired for the national team aspirants down the stretch, but Calvin Cage, one of the two imports of Duhok-Iraq, single handedly carried the fight for his squad.

Cage’s basket knotted the count at 74-all with still six seconds to go in regulation.

In the next play, Barroca, driving to the lane, drew the Iraq defense then found Vucicevic wide open for the winning bucket.

After a day of rest, the Filipinos face an acid test in the next round where they will meet powerhouse Al Riyadi-Lebanon on Friday, 8 p.m. (Saturday in Manila).

The Lebanese are bolstered by a talented roster composed of local holdovers and many-time national team member Fadi El Khatib and Rony Fahed, and imports Nate Johnson and former Smart-Gilas reinforcement CJ Giles.

Fahed scored 29 points, built around six triples while Johnson, a former San Miguel Beer import in the PBA, contributed 14 in limited minutes.

Al Riyadi-Lebanon is one of only two undefeated teams in the tournament aside from host Al Rayyan Qatar, which pulled off an upset over defending champion Mahram-Iran, 78-72, earlier. - Rey Joble, GMANews.TV


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