Despite their best finish in almost four decades in the 2023 FIBA Women’s Asia Cup, there’s an unsettling feeling within the Gilas Pilipinas Women.
And that may be a good thing.
The Philippines was grouped with the likes of Australia, Japan, and Chinese-Taipei, a tough bracket on paper. Blowout losses to the Australians and the Japanese were expected but nonetheless painful for the Gilas Women. However, there were gains to note, some of which led to the breakthrough win over Chinese-Taipei.
It wasn’t an easy victory, given how the Gilas Pilipinas Women had to dig deep, particularly on the offensive end, to fend off Chinese-Taipei and earn their first win in Division A. The Philippines saw their hard-earned lead threatened for much of the game, but they responded and left everything on the floor.
The victory over Chinese-Taipei gave the Gilas Women a shot at the semifinals and they had New Zealand on the ropes. A potential upset was brewing and a spot in the semifinals would have also meant a shot at qualifying for the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris, France, both of which would have been unprecedented and easily the biggest milestones for women’s basketball in the Philippines. Unfortunately, New Zealand proved to be a tough and gritty opponent that matched their runs and outlasted the Gilas Pilipinas Women in the end.
The Philippines’ 2023 FIBA Women’s Asia Cup campaign could easily be summed up as mission accomplished and then some, but to fully appreciate this particular campaign, one has to see how it influences their future plans.
Among the biggest realizations the Gilas Women had is that while they are still far behind six-time FIBA Women’s Asia Cup champions Japan and three-time bronze medallists in Australia, they can compete with a couple of their peers in the top-tier Division A. The Gilas Pilipinas Womens’ losses to New Zealand and South Korea were all in single digits and were competitive until the end. Moreover, Chinese-Taipei used to be one of the Philippines’ biggest tormentors and in this edition of the tournament, the Gilas Women were able to exact revenge and relegate them to Division B.
Gilas Pilipinas Women’s improvement has also coincided with the integration of more talent into the squad. The 2023 FIBA Women’s Asia Cup was Vanessa De Jesus’ first stint with the Philippines and while it was unfortunate she had to go through naturalization, it’s safe to say the Gilas Women are better with her than without the 21-year old.
The Gilas Pilipinas Women deserve a break and seem to have only the 2023 Asian Games on their agenda thus far. Of course, more work will be done behind the scenes, with most geared towards future events such as the 2024 FIBA events, the 2025 SEA Games, and the 2025 FIBA Women’s Asia Cup. The players themselves will also return to their own individual commitments, whether that be with their college teams or professional squads. Jack Animam should also be fully recovered and in better game shape following surgery to repair the torn ACL and MCL on her left knee.
Compared to the Men’s Team, politics has not been a major issue for the Gilas Women as the powers that be have allowed them and head coach Pat Aquino to do what they do best. It has allowed the Gilas Pilipinas Women to be able to train without unnecessary distractions and build the continuity that is needed for sports programs to achieve sustained success.
The Gilas Pilipinas Women may have just concluded their 2023 FIBA Women’s Asia Cup campaign but you have to love how they understand that the marathon continues for them. Their current trajectory sees them making waves in future tournaments but more than the games themselves, the Gilas Women know that they’re playing for more than themselves.