By June Navarro
Philippine Daily Inquirer
9:19 pm | Saturday, August 6th, 2011
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HSINCHUANG, Taiwan—Fiba Asia king Iran is not invincible after all.
After countless setbacks on different fronts, Smart Gilas Pilipinas finally found a chink in the Iranian armor and carved out a stunning 73-59 win over the Hamed Haddadi-led squad at the start of the William Jones Cup Saturday night.
Marcio Lassiter’s triple from way, way out capped the shocker that had the sellout crowd inside the Hsinchuang Stadium exploding in approval of the Nationals’ upset of the two-time Asian champions.
“We know that we are good and we proved that tonight,” said Smart Gilas coach Rajko Toroman. “To win against Asia’s back-to-back champion team means you have something. This game proved we can play with anybody.”
The Filipinos earned a standing ovation after breaking a long slump against the Iranians starting with a first-round defeat in the 2007 Fiba Asia Championship in Tokushima, Japan.
Marcus Douthit humbled the 7-foot-2 Haddadi of the Memphis Grizzlies and the Iranians in the lane, banging in 24 points and pulling down 11 rebounds on top of two blocks, two steals and an assist.
Guards Mark Barroca and JV Casio also sparkled with 13 and 11 points apiece while the entire team shot 46 percent from the field.
But Toroman said it was defense that did the trick.
“Our defense was great, especially Marcus. He made several crucial stops and made a lot of positive things on the floor,” said Toroman.
Samad Nikkhah Bahrami and Hamed Afagh, Iran’s reliable swingmen, missed the game due to injuries, denying the Iranians a lot of scoring opportunities from the wings.
Playmaker Mahdi Kamrani and Haddadi took over the scoring cudgels as they combined for 43 points.
“Hamed is a very skilled guy and he’s dominated the five position in Asia,” said Toroman. “He loves to shoot threes and that’s better for us as long as we put a body on him whenever he goes inside the paint.”
Smart Gilas opened a 14-point lead on Chris Tiu’s fastbreak and padded the advantage on a Japeth Aguilar dunk, 54-38, at the end of the third.
Kamrani replied with eight straight points but Casio, Douthit, Tiu and Mac Baracael converted consecutive jumpers before Lassiter’s long three put the outcome beyond doubt.
Douthit and Mark Barroca earlier gave the Filipinos their biggest lead of the first half at 33-22 halfway through the second quarter.
The Filipinos were supposed to face the Jordanians Saturday but the sudden pullout of South Africa from the initial nine-team field led to the modification of the schedule
In other games, Rashiem Wright scattered 15 points and Zaid Abbas added 14 as Jordan drubbed United Arab Emirates, 91-72.
South Korea, silver medalist in the 2010 Asian Games, also got going with a mighty showing, pulling off a 110-50 demolition of Malaysia, 110-50.
Under the new format, all teams play seven consecutive days with the top four advancing to the semifinals on the eighth day and the finalists playing on the ninth day.
It was a clear departure from the meet’s traditional single-round format, which includes a one-day rest, with the No. 1 team clinching the crown outright.
“We’ll be forced to use key players, including Marcus for longer minutes and that’s not good,” said Toroman.
The Nationals will face host Chinese Taipei today then Jordan, Malaysia, Korea, United Arab Emirates and Japan.
“It’s going to be tough and I hope nobody gets hurt or injured,” said Toroman.
Meanwhile, the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas has decided to extend the Smart Gilas program to two more years up to the 2013 Fiba Asia Championship where three continental slots are at stake for the world championship the following year.
“That’s right. The program has been extended for two more years without specific details,” said Smart Gilas manager Frankie Lim.
The three-year program that started late 2008 will reach its climax in the Asian championship in Wuhan, China next month, the qualifier for the 2012 London Olympics.
The champion in the continental meet on Sept. 15-25 earns a ticket to London while the losing finalist and the bronze finisher get another crack in the Fiba Olympic qualifying a few months before the Olympics.
Smart Gilas operations head Butch Antonio said the composition of the national team after Wuhan remains unknown since the contracts of the players, along with the coaching staff led by Toroman, are set to expire at the end of September.
Some of the Nationals are also joining the PBA Rookie Draft on Aug. 26 at Robinson’s Ermita.
SBP president Manny V. Pangilinan announced the new timetable for the Nationals during a send-off dinner for the Jones Cup team he hosted Wednesday night.
Toroman said Pangilinan gave the players a choice between the PBA and serving the national team for two more years.
“It’s now up to the players if they want to stay or go to the PBA,” said Toroman.
Though Toroman’s tenure highly depends on the team’s output in the Asian championship, he hailed the decision as a crucial move that would keep the national squad competitive against the best teams in the continent.
“The program is already in place and extending it for two more years could produce better results,” said Toroman, who brought Iran to the 2008 Beijing Olympics after capturing the 2007 Fiba Asia Championship.
“We have a strong chance to nail one of those three slots in the world championship,” he added.
SMART-GILAS 73—Douthit 24, Barroca 13, Casio 11, Baracel 8, Aguilar 6, Tiu 4, Taulava 2, Hontiveros 2, Lassiter 2, Ballesteros 0, Lutz 0, Ababou 0.
IRAN 59—Haddadi 25, Kamrani 18, Davarpanahfard 7, Sohrabnejad 3, Veisi 2, Kardoust 2, Nabipoor 2, Boragh 0, Davoudichegani 0, Sahakian 0, Rouzbahani 0.
Quarters: 17-12; 37-30; 54-38; 73-59
(this is just a repost from inquirer)