New Zealand stalwarts Corey Webster and Isaac Fotu already knew beforehand that they’ll be entering the lions’ den the moment they step on the court to face Gilas Pilipinas at the Mall of Asia Arena.
With over 20,000 Filipino fans cheering for Gilas, Webster, along with his brother Tai, Fotu and the rest of the Tall Blacks played with resilience and extreme focus as they hacked out a convincing 89-80 win Wednesday night.
By the time the game was down to the last 2 minutes, New Zealand had successfully taken the crowd out of the picture as the Webster brothers combined for 48 points, while Fotu churned out an all-around stats line of 17 points, 5 rebounds and 3 assists.
“The Philippines played tough. We knew it’s gonna be a tough game because it is their home crowd but we just stuck to our game plan the whole game,” said Corey Webster, who finished with 23 points, spiked by 3 triples.
The 6-foot-7 Fotu, on the other hand, said they simply ignored the noise of the crowd for 40 minutes, electing to play hard-nosed defense by making Gilas bleed for every basket.
Statistically, New Zealand was successful as Gilas struggled on the 2-point zone, shooting just 41 percent compared to the Tall Blacks’ 58 percent.
The Webster brothers used their quickness and the solid picks of New Zealand’s front court to get good looks at the basket, knocking down mid-range shots and layups.
“We just have to keep fighting,” said Fotu, who currently plays for CAI Zaragosa in the Liga ACB in Spain. “They are a very good Philippine team but it’s good we came out with the win.”
Regardless of Thursday’s outcome against France, New Zealand will be advancing to knockout semifinals.
Gilas falls on the wayside after finishing the preliminary round with its 0-2 record. — By Richard Dy