Gilas Pilipinas showed better shooting, rebounding, defense, and most of all hustle. With that, the basketball gods smiled to them again as important breaks of the game went their side against the hapless Koreans.
The all-amateur Gilas Pilipinas showed the present of Phlippine basketball, sweeping Group A of the 2021 FIBA Asia Cup qualifiers with its second win against South Korea , 82-77, Sunday in Angeles, Pampanga.
Team leader Dwight Ramos showed impeccable three-point shooting and playmaking, SJ Belangel and Will Navarro hustled their way past their bigger opponents, and super subs RJ Abarrientos, Jordan Heading, and Kai Sotto provided scoring bursts off the bench for the Philippines.
The Koreans though always made the game close, surpassing a nine-point Gilas lead in the third quarter with timely triples and inside points.
Gilas made the adjustment by playing big, with Ramos playing point guard, which made the Philippines dominate offensive boards. Tab Baldwin’s ploy paid well, as Gilas crashed 20 offensive boards—a historically weak aspect of every Philippine national team in international games.
In fact, South Korea acknowledged this new superiority in Gilas’ game.
“They’ve now got taller big men like Kai Sotto that puts us in a hard position to play against them,” remarked new South Korea head coach Cho Sang-Hyun, a long time deputy of the legendary Hur Jae, after the game.
In the end game, Gilas’ Herculean efforts paid off as luck went their side in the end game.
Up by just two, 77-75, in the last minute, Gilas almost succumbed to Korea’s pressure defense as Navarro passed the ball to a wide open Justine Baltazar before falling out of bounds.
The La Sallian big upped Gilas’ lead, 79-75, after a running dunk with 33 second left.
Korean naturalized import Ratliffe wasted no time, attacking the basket with a post-up layup but in the ensuing inbounds play, the pint-sized SJ Belangel played hero once again after absorbing a flagrant foul from Lee Daesung, who tackled Belangel before the inbound pass.
Belangel and Ramos split their free throws thereafter but Ramos got his own miss from the foul line, which sealed the game for Gilas.
Gilas head coach Tab Baldwin credited Gilas’ resiliency in rebounding and defense as keys for their historic back-to-back wins versus their most bitter Asian rivals.
“I am particularly happy with our first half defense and that set the tone that we are going to be a competitive team throughout the game and that we are going to be there in the end one way or the other,” Baldwin explained.
Ramos led his team with 19 points, three offensive boards, five assists, and two steals.
Sotto, Abarrientos, and Heading supported with ten points each.
The Koreans were again led by Ratliffe, who tallied 20 points and 13 rebounds. Lee Hyunjung added 13 points and Yang Hongseok had 12 points.
Gilas will next see action in Belgrade for the 2020 Olympics basketball qualifiers. They will battle mighty Serbia on June 30.
(Photo from the Gilas Pilipinas Facebook page)