Gilas Pilipinas won't have a chance to know how good world No.2 Spain is, and gain the experience of playing against the likes of NBA veterans Mark Gasol and Ricky Rubio.
That chance evaporated in the hot summer air of Malaga, Spain on Friday night when the Filipinos absorbed a 71-82 beating at the hands of Congo, the same side it outplayed in a friendly, 120-80, last week in Gualadajara.
But in a pocket tournament dubbed Torneo de Malaga, Congo turned the tables on Gilas and instead earned the right to meet the Spaniards in the final of the four-nation tournament that forms part of a World Cup buildup for both Gilas and Spain.
Spain was playing Ivory Coast in the other game, but it is highly-expected that the Rio Olympics silver medalist would win the game against the African team even with their eyes closed.
The Filipinos dominated the first half, but began to crumble the moment Congo asserted its size inside the paint and hit its shots from the outside.
Working their way inside, the Congolese finally grabbed the upperhand, 58-55, heading into the final quarter after trailing three-fourths of the way.
It didn’t get any better for Gilas Pilipinas when its 82nd-ranked opponent also started connecting from the outside to rip the game apart, 76-61, to the utter disappointment of a motley Filipino crowd that watched the game at the Palacio de Deportes Jose M. Martin Carpena.
Gilas Pilipinas newbie Robert Bolick led the team with 21 points including 3-of-5 from three-point range, while big man Andray Blatche added 15 and CJ Perez with 11.
Blatche also had eight rebounds, five assists and three steals.
The setback spoiled the Philippine national team’s shot at facing world No. 2 Spain on the final day of the tournament. The host country, bannered by several NBA players led by Marc Gasol and Ricky Rubio, faces Ivory Coast in the other scheduled game in the opener.
Gilas will face the loser of the Spain-Ivory Coast match.
Coach Yeng Guiao again made do with a short, nine-man rotation, with veteran guard Gabe Norwood yet to be given clearance to play due to a mild groin strain he suffered in the first meeting against Congo.
"Fatigue was an issue since we played with nine men all throughout the game," noted Gilas deputy coach Ryan Gregorio.
Yet, the Filipinos got off to a good start against the Congolese and led by as many as 29-20 early in the second quarter before settling for a 33-32 lead at the half.
Ron Mvouika went a perfect 4-of-4 from downtown and finished with 21 points in leading the Congolese, who also got 16 points from Ruphin Kayembe.
Gilas Pilipinas shot just 8-of-26 from three-point range (30.8 percent) compared to Congo’s high 41.2 percent (7-of-17).
Congo (82) - Mvouika 21, Kayambe 16, Mutuale 9, Anzuluni 7, Katenda 6, Sakho 5, Mukendi 3, Bonga 3, Kibi 2, Kande 0, Lomboto 0.
Gilas Pilipinas (71) - Bolick 21, Blatche 15, Perez 11, Lee 8, Barroca 6, Aguilar 6, Erram 3, Wright 1, Belga 0.
Quarterscores: 18-21; 32-33; 58-55; 82-71.