FIBA World Cup Qualifiers Preview: Gilas Pilipinas vs. Australia

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 22) — In a few hours - 4:30pm Manila time - our Gilas Pilipinas national basketball team will face its toughest test so far in the FIBA World Cup Qualifiers.

Australia is ranked #10 in the World and demolished Chinese Taipei and Japan by, 38 and 24 points, respectively. In contrast, the Philippines beat those teams by only, 7 and 6 points, respectively.

Obviously that isn't always a fair gauge but this Australian team is tough, and to think they are playing without their NBA stars - Ben Simmons, Andrew Bogut, Dante Exum, Matthew Dellevadova, Joe Ingles, Patty Mills, Aron Baynes, Thon Maker, Cameron Bairstow!

One player who is back for them though is Kevin Lisch—a 2-time MVP in the NBL—who missed the first leg because of injury.

Missing Jayson Castro

Speaking of missing key players, the Philippine team will miss the services of 'The Blur' Jayson Castro. Coach Chot Reyes opted not to field him in the final 12 for the Australian leg as he is not yet 100 percent fit.

I actually think that this is a wise decision. Yes, we will be missing his 20-5-5 stat line plus his dribble penetration but if we look at the big picture, finishing at the top of our group is not the end goal. The objective is to make it to the next round, and, more importantly, to beat both Japan and Chinese Taipei.

Giving him extra rest against Australia will keep him a bit fresher for the quick turnaround in our game against Japan on Sunday, Manila time. Let's not forget, it's at least a 9-hour flight to get back home which would probably leave them with less than 48 hours to prepare for a reinforced Japanese team.

It is wiser to play the percentages; our chances of beating Japan are much higher than that of Australia. Having a healthier Jayson Castro will certainly increase our chances.

Insider sources have told me that the Gilas team also spent a bit more time preparing for the Japan game than the Australia game. If you remember the time when we held the Olympic Qualifiers here, our Gilas squad went all out and prepared for France in the first game, without spending that much time preparing for New Zealand (probably the more winnable game) in the second game, and it ended up haunting us.

Moral of the story: Pick your battles.

Keys to winning

It's not to say that we cannot beat Australia. In fact, I am sure that they are wary of us. They know that we will be their toughest and fastest opponent in this group.

1. Physicality and rebounding the basketball

It's no secret that they're the bigger and more physical team - their average height is 6'6 compared to our 6'3. It's going to take a team effort to box them out and battle them on the boards. Guys like Japeth Aguilar will definitely have to play much tougher against a rugged Australian team.

One of our biggest strengths is running, and if we can't rebound the ball, we won't be able to run. Everything is connected. If we get them to miss shots, but allow them to get offensive rebounds - they average 15.5 per game so far - then we also won't be able to run.

If we allow them to bully us inside and be the physical team, we will end up fouling them more and that will slow the game down which will be to their advantage.

2. Speed

One of our strengths will always be our speed. It has to be. We are the smaller team so we definitely need to be quicker and use it to our advantage. It's not to say that their team cannot play fast because they also can, and the way they cut and move is actually quite impressive. Their execution on offense is very sharp.

It is also why we must use our speed to disrupt their flow. We need to keep the pace up, play to our game and get quick and easy baskets. If it will be a slow half court game, then that will be to our favor.

But again, in order for us to run, we need to be able to get stops, which is definitely connected to rebounding.

3. On point outside shooting

Let's face it, we've said it time and time again that for us to beat these bigger teams, our outside shooting has to click. Well in our first two games of the qualifier so far, it hasn't. We are only shooting 28 percent from three, which is not going to get it done against Australia.

It's going to be tough to score against them from the inside, and I'm pretty sure if our dribble drive offense works against them and we blow by the initial defenders, the help defense will come and we will get our outside looks. Those shots, we definitely need to make.

It will be tough against Australia, but hey, as long as we play with puso we will always have a chance.