LAS  VEGAS:  RP  5 UPSETS  LONG  BEACH  IN  THRILLER

LAS VEGAS, July 21, 2005 
(STAR) By Joaquin Henson - Defying the odds, the Philippines displayed the heart of a champion in bringing down the previously unbeaten Long Beach Jam, 93-92, at the Global Hoops Summit in the Cox Pavilion on the University of Nevada at Las Vegas campus Tuesday afternoon (yesterday morning, Manila).

It was the Filipinos’ second win in four games and came at the expense of the 2003 American Basketball Association titleholder.

Losing coach Corey Gaines had no excuses. The Jam was undefeated in the Summit, beating Nigeria by 13, Aoshen of China by 39 and SFX Sports by four before facing the Philippines.

"The Philippines played hard," said Gaines, a former National Basketball Association (NBA) guard from the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA). "They deserved to win. They competed out there. We were out to win but we didn’t get the job done. I told my guys not to take them lightly, not to give them open threes. I told them to go strong inside and power but they didn’t listen."

The cliffhanger was one for the books.

The Philippines stormed back from a 16-point deficit in the second period to finally wrest the lead, 89-87, with two minutes to go. It was the Philippines’ first taste of the driver’s seat. Then, Jam guard James Wright fired a jumper for the game’s sixth tie, 89-all. Jay-Jay Helterbrand countered to make it, 91-89, time down to 1:22. Wright retaliated with a triple as Long Beach regained the edge, 92-91, with 58.4 seconds left.

After a timeout, Dondon Hontiveros sank a 15-foot jumper to bring the lead back to the Philippines, 93-92, with 50.2 seconds to go. Jam guard Fred Vinson, an NBA veteran, missed on a drive and Helterbrand stole the ball from 6-7 Alex Comaco who was about to elevate for a put-back from an offensive rebound.

With 27.1 ticks left, the Philippines milked the clock and took a final shot that missed. Long Beach’s Kamron Sufi had a chance to win it for the Jam but his last-second jumper was off the mark, triggering wild celebration by the Philippines.

Tony de la Cruz hit 14 of his 22 points in the second period to prevent the Jam from pulling away after a 27-13 cushion to end the first quarter. James Yap erupted for 13 of his 16 points in the second half to lead the Philippines’ rally. Romel Adducul shot seven of his 11 in the payoff period as he sent 6-10 Nick Vanderline to the bench with his seventh personal foul. Under Summit rules, a player is disqualified on his 10th personal but after his seventh, succeeding fouls will mean a technical free throw and possession.

Ren-Ren Ritualo strained his left calf muscle early in the first period and asked to be relieved. He is doubtful for the Philippines’ last game against Nigeria this morning (Manila time).

Coach Chot Reyes said the big win will forever be a milestone in his career.

"It’s the first time for me to beat a US team," said Reyes. "This has to be very memorable. But more than a personal triumph, this will lead to bigger victories, particularly in Asia. This will go a long way in boosting our confidence that we can compete against bigger, more athletic players."

Reyes said Ritualo’s sidelining was a "downer" but it challenged his teammates to take over, particularly Yap and Hontiveros.

"We couldn’t even play Dondon until the middle of the second period because he left his uniform in the hotel and we had to go back and get it," said Reyes. "On defense, our focus was not to give Vinson open looks from outside and to keep Damien (Cantrell) off the glass because he’s such a strong offensive rebounder. We doubled inside and took away their inside game. We noticed their post players aren’t used to getting doubled. We also checked their pick-and-rolls. In the end, their guards lost confidence in throwing the ball to the big guys. That worked to our advantage."

Reyes admitted he chewed out the players at the half.

"We started well and tied it up at 8-all," he said. "I went to our second unit early because I was conscious about keeping fresh legs on the floor. Then they made a run and opened a 16-point lead. I told the guys Long Beach wasn’t beating us, that we were beating ourselves. I gave our shooters the license to shoot because they were passing up shots. I told them don’t be afraid to shoot."

Reyes was overheard scolding the players for allowing Long Beach to erect a big lead. He told the boys to cover the Philippine flags on their uniforms because of their shameful performance and they didn’t fly all the way to Las Vegas to enjoy a vacation.

Obviously, the players responded, took up Reyes’ challenge and rose to the occasion in the second half.

"One thing about our guys, they don?t quit," said Reyes proudly. "All the guys contributed even Rich (Alvarez) and Sonny (Thoss) who didn?t play in the second half but did their part early with tough defense."

Vinson, who played for Carol-Ann’s in the Philippine Basketball League a few years ago, paid tribute to the Filipinos for their never-say-die spirit.

"They wore me out," said Vinson who suited up for Atlanta and Seattle in the NBA. "They played hard. They’re quick and they’re excellent outside shooters."

Cantrell, a former Talk ’N Text import, said he warned his teammates to take the Philippines seriously before the game. "You can’t underestimate the Filipinos because they fight to the last possession," he said. "They play smart. From when I played in the PBA, I noticed there’s much better ball movement, execution and motion in the offense."

Vinson and Cantrell combined for 37 points but couldn?t hold off the Filipinos.

Long Beach dominated the boards, 45-36, and hit more free throws, 18-6, but the Philippines shot .519 from the field to the Jam’s .479. The Filipinos forced 16 turnovers and had three less. Outside shooting made the difference as the Philippines buried seven treys, four from Yap, and the Jam, only four. The Summit’s three-point arc is the NBA distance which is over a foot farther than the international line.


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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