MANILA, JUNE 8, 2007
(STAR) By Nelson Beltran - Coaches who have handled the RP team before could only commiserate with coach Chot Reyes and his troops for getting into the toughest group in the preliminary round of the Asian championship in Tokushima, Japan in July.

They agree the Nationals have no room for error right in the eliminations where they are bracketed with perennial champion China and emerging Asian powers Iran and Jordan.

Tough luck, they cant afford to make a mistake, said Tim Cone, who steered the RP team to a bronze-medal finish in the 1998 Asian Games in Bangkok, Thailand.

But he agreed with Reyes that the Nationals will get relatively lighter assignments in the next round if theyre able to make it past the preliminary round of Olympic qualifier among 16 teams.

I really havent thought about it but I always assume that we will make it to the semis and would like to avoid China in the crossover, said Jong Uichico.

The tournament format calls for each group to play one round in the preliminaries with the top two from each group advancing to the quarterfinals.

Group As and Cs top finishers are grouped with Group Bs and Ds runners-up (Group I) while Group As and Cs runners-up are grouped with Group Bs and Ds top-notchers (Group II) for another round-robin play in the quarters.

The top team of Group I meets the runner-up of Group II while the No.1 team in Group II meets the runner-up of Group I in the sudden-death semifinals. The winners in the semifinals dispute the championship while the losers dispute the third-place trophy.

Assuming China would top Group A, the Philippines needs to beat Iran and Jordan to advance to the quarterfinals with Japan, Qatar and Chinese Taipei in Group II if all the teams play according to their FIBA ranking.

China is ranked highest at 11th and the Philippines second to last at 65th. The Philippines is only ranked ahead of Indonesia in this tourney.

Lebanon is No. 24 in the world, Korea 25, Qatar 26, Japan 28, Iran 37, Chinese Taipei 40, Saudi Arabia 41, Syria 43, India 46, Hong Kong 50, Kazakhstan and UAE tied at 56 and Jordan 61.

Harbour, Cebuana arrange title showdown Friday, June 8, 2007

Cebuana Lhuillier held Toyota Balintawak to just seven points in the fourth quarter while scoring 20 points of its own as the Moneymen ran away with a 72-58 victory to set up a clash with Harbour Centre for the PBL Unity Cup crown at the Olivarez Sports Center.

Doug Kramer, Macky Escalona and Ariel Capus anchored Cebuanas stifling defense in the payoff period that forced the Roadkings to take low percentage shots while breaking several Toyota plays en route to earning the Moneymens first finals appearance since rejoining the league last year.

The Batang Pier, on the other hand, rode on an explosive second half charge to defeat the Henkel-Sista side, 88-67, and remain on course of their bid for a third straight championship.

Game One of the best-of-five finals starts tomorrow at The Arena in San Juan with Harbour Centre gunning for a third straight title after winning the same tournament last year and the Silver Cup last February.

We played as a Harbour team and not individually just like the last time, said coach Jorge Gallent. We rotated the ball fluidly thats why we won by huge margin again.

The Batang Pier actually had a shaky start, enabling the Super Sealers to control the tempo of the game. But after Jason Castro found his range and started to connect, the Batang Pier seized the upperhand for good.

The Batang Pier finished the half at 41-33 after Ryan Arana threw a prayer of a shot from the midcourt at the buzzer. They were never threatened the rest of the way.

Harbour is gunning for a third straight championship after winning the same tournament last year at the expense of the Roadkings. They also ruled the Silver Cup last February by sweeping past Dazz (formerly Hapee Toothpaste).

Castro, a top candidate for the MVP plum, led the Batang Pier with 16 points despite playing only for 18 minutes. He also had six assists, four rebounds, two steals and two shot blocks.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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