MANILA, Philippines – There was no doubt as to who the Filipino fans at the Philippine Arena were cheering for on Tuesday, in the women's gold medal game of the 2018 FIBA 3×3 Basketball World Cup.
The Italian women's team had firmly established itself as the crowd favorite early in the tournament, and when they reached the gold medal game, the Filipino fans at the venue loudly rooted for them to take down defending champion Russia.
Thus, it was no surprise to hear the crowd erupt into thunderous cheers when the Italians – seeded eighth in the event – defeated the Russians, 16-12, to win the championship.
Receiving the loudest applause was 30-year-old Rae Lin D'Alie, the 5-foot-4 guard who endeared herself to the Filipino fans with her flashy yet effective game.
Afterward, D'Alie – the tournament's Most Valuable Player – led the crowd in a "Puso" chant.
"Thank you for coming out, for driving here. Thank you for filling the stadium Monday night, Tuesday night," D'Alie later said, when asked for a message to the Filipino fans.
"You guys are probably working all day. You guys probably have stuff to do, and you decided to come out to support 3×3. We want to say thank you," she added.
D'Alie acknowledged that she and her teammates relished the cheers and the love that the Filipino fans gave them, especially as they ran through a gauntlet of tough opponents.
The Italians needed to defeat an erstwhile unbeaten United States team in the semifinals, then overcome the top overall seed, China, in the semifinals. That game saw D'Alie fire a pass to teammate Marcella Filippi for the game-winner in the sudden death overtime period in one of the most thrilling contests of the tournament.
"I think if you just love people and just spread light, it's gonna come back," said D'Alie. "I saw that a lot – the staff at the hotel and here at the arena. It's just like energy – you feed off on one another."
The Serbian men's team, who defeated the Netherlands in their own final, 16-13, were similarly appreciative of the Filipinos even though they had expected more fans to show up.
"I honestly expected a bit more audience in the gym," said Dejan Majstorovic, the No. 1 3×3 player in the world. "But the gym is great, the organization is good, so everything is fine."
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