In a game that was supposed to display their strength, Gilas Pilipinas only proved that there's more need for improvement.
Either it was opening day jitters, or a cold-shooting night, the national team struggled all game before dispatching a pesky Saudi Arabian squad with a 78-66 win in the FIBA Asia Championship last night at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City.
The Nationals finally got some breathing room against Saudi Arabia after a tight first half when Ranidel de Ocampo, who had a sprained right ankle last week, hit a jumper to grab a 44-32 lead midway into the third period.
Gilas even led by 16 points, 66-50, on a jump shot by Gary David with 6:06 left in the game.
But Three consecutive treys by Saudi Arabia - two from Aymam Almuwallad - cut the deficit to seven points, 59-66, but it proved to be the last serious threat of the Middle East nation as the hosts answered with 9-2 run capped by a triple from Larry Fonacier to take a 75-62 lead with a minute to play.
Fonacier and LA Tenorio scored 12 points apiece, while naturalized player Marcus Douthit added 10 points and 11 boards as Gilas shifts its focus on tonight's game against Jordan.
"It was pretty difficult, we're trying to manage for tomorrow's game and we wanted to distribute the minutes (of players). We need the energy. We're glad to be able to come out with a victory," said Reyes who turned 50 yesterday.
"The real battle is tomorrow," added Reyes as the country fights the same team that eliminated the original Smart Gilas Pilipinas in the semifinal round of the Asian championship two years earlier in Wuhan.
After a poor start, the national team found some rhythm in the second period as it outscored its opponent, 21-12, to take a 35-28 lead at the break. From a 22-deadlock, the Filipinos used a 13-6 run to take the lead.
Gilas Pilipinas' poor shooting - 5-of-19 from the field - allowed the Saudis' to control the opening period, taking a 16-14 lead. Douthit shot 0-of-5 from the field, while David - a dangerous outside gunner - made just a basket out of six attempts.
The national team shot 32-of-76 (42%) from the field, including 8-of-26 (31%) from three-point territory, although they controlled the boards, 49-38.
The national team committed 14 turnovers, a stat that left Reyes in dismay.
"I'm not really alarmed as much as disappointed. Many thought that it will be an easy game, but I expected that we'll have difficulty. Our objective is to get better, and come out better in the next two games," said Reyes.
Former two-time FIBA Asia champion Iran also won its opening day assignment, dismantling lowly Malaysia, 115-25, while Taiwan edged 2011 FIBA-Asia finalist Jordan, 91-87, and Qatar scored a come-from-behind 75-74 win over Japan.
South Korea, on the other hand, stunned defending champion and East Asian rival China with a thrilling 63-59 victory.
PHILIPPINES 78 - Tenorio 12, Fonacier 12, Douthit 10, De Ocampo 9, Pingris 8, Chan 6, William 6, Alapag 5, David 4, Norwood 2, Fajardo 2, Aguilar 2.
SAUDI ARABIA 66 - Almuwallad A. 18, Almarwani Mohammad 12, Alhwasi 11, Abo 9, Almarwani M. 8, Almuwallad M. 4, Kabe 2, Belal 2, Alsager 0, Abujabal 0, Almuhanna 0, Almukatar 0.