When Gilas Pilipinas head coach Chot Reyes was harping on learning experiences, he must have had a performance like this in mind.

For much of their second game against Senegal, the Philippines was playing from behind and getting their butts kicked on both ends of the floor. The previous loss to Senegal was a punch in the gut, and in the first three quarters it seemed that would be the case again for Gilas. The physicality they had to endure was taking its toll and it clearly affected Gilas Pilipinas’ attempts to get their offense going.

It was a fight of flight scenario for the Philippines and in the end, they chose to bring the fight back to Senegal.

Baskets from June Mar Fajardo, Bobby Ray Parks Jr., and CJ Perez sparked an 8-0 run that handed Gilas a slim lead and the momentum they needed to get back into the game. There was also greater effort on their part to battle in the trenches against the bigger Senegalese players, who weren’t going down without a fight themselves.

In the end, it was a sum of those efforts and the timely 3-pointers of AJ Edu and Kiefer Ravena that broke the hearts of Senegal and perhaps gave them flashbacks of their 2014 FIBA World Cup matchup against Gilas Pilipinas.

In all honesty, I’m not even sure what the Philippines, Iran, and Senegal are playing for in the 2023 Heyuan WUS International Basketball Tournament other than bragging rights and experience for their respective future tournaments, but Gilas’ 75-63 win over Senegal is a great trophy in itself considering their bigger goal in mind.

The 2023 FIBA Basketball World Cup won’t be a bed of roses so the preparation itself won’t be a walk in the park either. Reyes has been harping on learning experiences since he put Gilas Pilipinas together for the 2023 FIBA World Cup and Senegal pretty much gave Reyes and the rest of the Philippines what they wanted: a tall and physical team that will test their mettle and prepare them for the likes of the Angola, the Dominican Republic, and Italy.

For a moment, Reyes’ persistence on small ball put Gilas in a hole they pretty much dug for themselves. His lineup of Fajardo, Edu, Parks Jr., Ramos, and Ravena fared much better and should pretty much seal their spots in the final roster.

Fajardo was shoved and taken out of his element, but he remained undeterred and kept the plays alive with his passing and baskets. Edu may be the youngest player in this pool sans Sotto, but he held his own against tougher opponents and made some big shots himself. Parks Jr. was a spark plug offensively, and he will definitely be a much needed presence off the bench. Ramos was as steady as can be and that’s all Gilas Pilipinas needs from him. Ravena, meanwhile, has had forgettable performances and drawn the ire of some FIlipinos, but he made a big shot against Senegal and hopefully that can get him going.

The final game against Iran before the team returns to the Philippines will be crucial in the same way the win over Senegal was. Obviously, Gilas went through some highs and lows in recent days and how they manage those emotions and keep their focus in the games will be something they can bring to their buildup to the FIBA World Cup. The balance of putting a game behind them but also learning from it will be crucial, and how they close out the 2023 Heyuan WUS International Basketball Tournament could give us a glimpse of that.

Among all of Gilas Pilipinas’ learning experiences so far in their 2023 FIBA Basketball World Cup buildup, this win over Senegal may very well be head coach Chot Reyes’ favorite. The Philippines was being pushed around and forced into their usual issues and yet, Gilas responded and came away with the victory. However, this win over Senegal isn’t the end goal, as how they build on it will define their fate when their FIBA World Cup campaign opens on August 25.