In the final minutes against South Korea, Gilas Pilipinas held on 82-77, capping off an undefeated FIBA Asia Cup Qualifiers campaign at the Angeles University Foundation Gym in Clark, Pampanga.
Continuing on from his hot streak of games with double-digit point totals, Dwight Ramos led the charge with 19 points, going 5-of-9 from three-point territory. RJ Abarrientos, Jordan Heading, and Kai Sotto all pitched in 10 points each, while Angelo Kouame led the team with 8 boards to go along with a steal from his exceptional defense.
The win completed a two-game sweep for Gilas Pilipinas against South Korea after SJ Belangel’s thrilling game winner last Wednesday ended the eight-year losing streak against the South Korean faithful. With the 5-point victory, Gilas silenced doubters who deemed their win last Wednesday to be “lucky.”
Looking for a groove
After a 9-0 start from South Korea that began with a three-pointer from Lee Hyunjung, Ramos ended the run with a three-pointer of his own. This set the tone for the rest of the game as both teams battled it out from downtown, with Gilas finishing the game 14-of-37 from the three-point line.
With Ramos’ three-pointer igniting an 8-0 run for Gilas, South Korea decided to play through their naturalized player Ra Guna to finish off a tightly contested first quarter, 20-18, as they held onto a two-point lead heading into the second after both teams saw contributions to the scoreboard from several of their key players.
In the second quarter, the team started with quick plays via a three-pointer by Mike Nieto and a steal by Justine Baltazar that resulted in a Jordan Heading layup to put the team up by three. Seeing this, Ra immediately picked up the pace for South Korea with two straight layups to put his team ahead by one.
Both teams would pick up a groove as they would trade buckets all throughout the quarter as a result from great team play and long-distance bombs. However, it would be Sotto who would throw it down for Gilas to finish off the first half with an edge over South Korea, 38-34.
Keeping up the pressure
The second half started with both teams struggling with shooting and taking care of the ball, but Gilas stayed hungry on the offensive glass to create more opportunities until Navarro scored five straight points to open up a nine-point lead for Gilas. Kim stopped the bleeding with a trey. Kouame was then forced to sit with three fouls as Ra continued to impose his will in the paint.
South Korea seized the momentum with a 13-6 surge to tie the game at 50. They grabbed their first lead since the opening quarter, answering Ramos’ three with two straight layups. But Gilas answered back with Abarrientos’ trey to regain the lead and finish the quarter, 56-54.
Both teams picked it up offensively in the final quarter as they traded buckets throughout the period. Sotto scored Gilas’ first five points but South Korea always stuck around just enough to keep themselves in striking distance. Lee Seonghyun had his own personal 5-0 run to cut the lead to one but Heading answered back with five of his own to extend the lead to four. This pattern continued for a few minutes until Ramos extended the lead to six with his fifth three-pointer at 75-69 with three minutes remaining.
Both teams scored on the next two possessions until Yang made it a one-possession game with a trey. With 55 seconds left, Ra had the chance to cut the lead to one at the foul line but missed one. After a long scramble, Baltazar found a wide-open lane to the rim and extended the lead to four with a slam dunk. Ra kept South Korea afloat with a layup inside but Belangel and Ramos made three crucial free throws to ice the game.
Despite the loss, Ra was dominant in the paint with his game-high 20 points on 8-of-10 field goals, 13 rebounds, and two blocks while Lee Hyunjung and Yang Hongseok had 13 and 12, respectively, with three treys each.
With the victory, Gilas ended the campaign with a 6-0 record.
Coach Tab Baldwin stated that limiting turnovers and holding down South Korea’s transition game was the key to the win. He also credited his assistant coaches as arguably the biggest reason for the team’s success. With the win, Gilas now looks forward to the FIBA World Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Belgrade this July 1 where they will face the host nation Serbia, who will be playing without reigning NBA MVP Nikola Jokic.
Philippines (82) – Ramos 19, Abarrientos 10, Heading 10, Sotto 10, Navarro 8, Kouame 7, Baltazar 6, Belangel 6, Go 3, Nieto 3
South Korea (77) – Ra 20, H.Lee 13, Yang 12, D. Lee 9, S.Lee 8, Kim 8, Jeon 3, Byeon 2, Yeo 2
Quarter scores: 20-18, 38-34, 56-54, 82-77