Three takeaways as Gilas Pilipinas suffer heavy defeat against New Zealand

Thursday's loss to New Zealand in the Asian qualifiers for the 2023 FIBA Basketball World Cup was Gilas Pilipinas' fourth in a row, after they lost to Indonesia in the 2021 Southeast Asian Games decider before back-to-back friendly defeats to South Korea. FIBA

Well, that certainly wasn't pretty.

An 11-man Gilas Pilipinas outfit was totally outplayed by New Zealand's Tall Blacks in their 2023 FIBA World Cup Asian qualifiers in Auckland, 106-60, in a game that was pretty much over by halftime.

It was the largest margin of defeat by a Gilas side in a FIBA Asian qualifier since that infamous game against Australia nearly four years ago at the Philippine Arena, where the final score was 89-53.

The Tall Blacks nearly doubled their winning margin from the two sides' first meeting last February at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum, which ended in an 88-63 rout. That game was held without a live audience and -- while this one had fans back in the stands -- it was pre-dominantly pro-Gilas.

Gilas next takes on India on Sunday at the Mall of Asia Arena. It bears repeating that -- as co-host -- Philippines has already qualified for next year's World Cup, and these games are serving to give more exposure to the young players.

Here are three takeaways from the Gilas-Tall Blacks game.

Same old faces, but some new ones for New Zealand

Before we start comparing this result with the one in February, let's be clear about one thing: the team that New Zealand sent in February wasn't their strongest. Tall Blacks coach Pero Cameron said as much in the post-game press conference. "I'm really happy that we were able to get some key guys back to the team," he said.

The Tall Blacks brought back five players from that February team: Taylor Britt, Hyrum Harris, Dion Prewster, Tom Vodanovich and Ethan Rusbatch. Prewster and Vodanovich led New Zealand in scoring in that February game with 20 points apiece.

Prewster again led the Tall Blacks in scoring this time with 15, although their point distribution was more spread out compared to the first game. Five other players scored in double-digits and no one took more than 11 shots, a remarkable figure considering New Zealand put up 106 points in a 40-minute game.

Meanwhile, only two Gilas players from February -- William Navarro and Dwight Ramos -- played in Auckland. Ramos, who scored 18 in the February game, struggled with his shot this time and finished with just six points on 2-of-11 shooting.

Pressure, pressure, and more pressure

Right from the opening tip, the Tall Blacks applied relentless pressure on Gilas' ball-handlers, and as a result either forcing turnovers or disrupting the offense.

New Zealand's guards are taller and heftier, but just as quick as their Gilas counterparts. Even with the 6-foot-4 Ramos bringing up the ball, Gilas still couldn't execute properly.

The offensive flow was so bad that Gilas only had 21 points at the half after a dominant 24-8 second quarter by New Zealand. For the entire game, Gilas had 19 turnovers which the Tall Blacks converted into a massive 32-2 edge in points off turnovers.

"Very tough night for this young team," Gilas coach Nenad Vucinic said. "We came up against a team that was playing with high intensity and very good execution. We struggled really offensively to get things going."

When asked if he had any positive takeaways, Vucinic was blunt. "It's very hard to find positives after such a heavy loss. I don't think there's any point focusing on positives."

On to the next one for Gilas

SJ Belangel, who typified Gilas' offensive struggles by shooting just 1-of-6, knew the team let down the entire country. "Today was tough not only for the players but for the Philippines. We just have to learn from this game and move on."

"It's a good thing for the young players to understand what level we need to be to play at this level of international basketball," Vucinic added. "It will help us to get better in the future."

The future actually starts this Sunday with the game against India, which Gilas handily beat by 23 during the February window. Vucinic, though, is wary.

"They have experience," he said of India. "They have size as well. We have injuries, we are shorthanded and we have lack of size. It's gonna be a difficult night for us, but we cannot play the way we played tonight. I'm sure we're gonna come with a much better performance on Sunday."

Gilas faces the very real prospect of playing India -- a team with at least five players standing 6-7 or taller -- without Carl Tamayo, who went down with an ankle injury with 7:50 left to play. Tamayo was the lone bright spot for Gilas, finishing with 16 points on 6-of-10 shooting.

Vucinic didn't sound too confident about the young big's availability for Sunday, sharing: "It's very early to assess the injury. It's a sprained ankle. So it's very hard to see that he can recover in three days."

Tamayo's absence would further decimate Gilas' frontline rotation, which is already missing 6-11 Ange Kouame. It would leave Vucinic with just Geo Chiu and Kevin Quiambao as the only legitimate post players, and would likely force him to use the 6-5 Navarro more down low.