Pinoy Pride as Arayi, Perlas Pilipinas wow at FIBA Asia
MANILA, Philippines - While the attention of Filipino basketball fans remains transfixed on the Gilas Pilipinas men’s team at the William Jones Cup in Taiwan, the women’s basketball club is doing the nation proud at the ongoing FIBA Asia Women’s Championship in Wuhan, China.
Perlas Pilipinas, as they’re known, concluded play in Group B at 4-1, good enough for first place and its best finish since switching to the A-B group format. The Philippines has earned a shot to be promoted to Group A when it faces India on Friday, September 4 at 3 pm.
Though their games are not televised and the only way interested fans can monitor their contests is through live stats, the ladies have shown outstanding character along the way.
Heroes have stepped forward, like former Far Eastern University star Allana Lim, who is leading the team with 14.4 points, 6.2 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game, and Cindy Resultay, whose late scoring pushed Perlas to a one-point win over North Korea.
Perhaps the most spectacular performance so far came from Merenciana Arayi, the 29-year-old from Sampaloc, Bolinao, Pangasinan, who transformed into an unstoppable force in a critical game against Kazakhstan on Wednesday, September 2.
Arayi took control of the game in overtime, scoring 13 of the team’s 17 points in the 5-minute period to carry her team to an 80-73 victory. She finished the game with 28 points and 5 rebounds.
To put that performance in context, the NBA record for most points in one overtime period is 16 by Gilbert Arenas.
With her ankle hurting during the final 3 minutes, she looked at her teammates’ faces, with whom she has shared tears and prayers, and put the pain behind her.
“I’m praying and keep on saying ‘Jesus,’” Arayi, a 2004 UAAP MVP as part of of the Adamson Lady Falcons and 8-year Perlas veteran, tells Rappler.
“I looked at my teammates' and coaches' faces, that’s where I get motivation and strength. I don’t want to fail them.”
Arayi and the team carried the disappointment of their fourth place finish at the 2015 Southeast Asian Games in June, and used it as motivation. She also sought divine inspiration.
“I focused on one matter talaga that time which is winning and giving pride our country,” said Arayi, who is averaging 9.4 points at this year's FIBA Asia tournament. "We fell short last SEA Games and I don’t want it to happen again. I prayed and read a motivational book (Your Best You Ever: Daily Motivation to Achieve Your Dreams) before the game started. I focused on Jesus, our strength and hope provider.”
A league of their own
The Philippines' love for basketball is unrivalled, but it seems the country's many male leagues leave very little room for its women ballers to find following and support.
Ever Bilena Cosmetics and fragrance company Blackwater helped bankroll the team’s endeavors, and after an initial rocky initiation for new coach Patrick Aquino (no players showed up for his first team practice in February), the team has begun to find success.
Arayi was one of the chief proponents for helping form the Pinay Ballers League – an answer to the men’s Philippine Basketball Association – which opens its second season later this month.
Arayi, who graduated from Adamson with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration in Banking and Finance in 2007, is also involved as a coach for the Magis Academy High School boys and girls teams in Rizal province, and plays basketball for the Philippine Navy team, while running all-woman basketball clinics.
The game against India will prove to be the team’s most important game to date. A win would mean entry into the elite level of women’s basketball in Asia, and earn them a spot in Group A at the FIBA Asia Women’s Championship in 2017, where they can earn a spot at the FIBA Women’s World Cup in 2018 at Spain.
Though India is ranked 19 spots higher by FIBA than the Philippines, they look primed for defeat, having lost all 5 of their prior matches, and were defeated 44-121 by South Korea in their last match.
Victory can be achieved through remember simple fundamentals, Arayi says. “If we play together and follow our coaches’ game plan, trust each other – especially trust God – and work together.”
Win, lose or draw, topping their group stage has already sent a message to the female ballers of the Philippines, a point not lost on Arayi.
“[We want] to encourage every woman basketball player to aim high and for them to know there is also a women’s basketball team.
“They will follow our footsteps soon.” – Rappler.com