MANILA, Philippines – Behind tremendous support from basketball-mad Filipino fans, Gilas Pilipinas is just one win away from booking a spot in the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Spain, but to get there they have to overcome an old and familiar opponent.
|Gilas Pilipinas' Gary David shoots over Dmitriy Klimov of Kazakhstan in their quarterfinals game Friday. David scored a game-high 22 points to lead the Philippines past the Kazakhs. -- Photo by Nuki Sabio
Gilas routed Kazakhstan, 88-58, in the quarterfinals of the 27th FIBA Asia Men’s Basketball Championship last Friday night behind a 22-point explosion from Gary David, then watched as nemesis South Korea trounced Qatar, 79-52, to advance to the semi-finals as well.
Gilas and South Korea will now face off in what should be an explosive semifinals showdown tonight at the Mall of Asia Arena, with the winner getting a shot of winning the FIBA Asia crown and a berth in next year’s world championship in Spain as well.
“We feel that Korea plays with a lot of precision, and I think among all of the teams in the league, they play with the best defense,” Gilas Pilipinas coach Chot Reyes said before the Qatar-Korea showdown.
It has been a rollercoaster of a tournament for Gilas, with the team winning both in spectacular and lackluster fashion, and sustaining a heartbreaking loss against Chinese-Taipei in the group rounds as well.
They still managed to top their group at the end of the second round – with a little help from Qatar – and sent a statement with their 30-point demolition of a taller, bigger Kazakhstan team.
South Korea, who pulled off one of the first shockers of the tournament by beating China in the first round, is a different challenge altogether.
Gilas will have to overcome not just this Korean team, but also the memory of several painful losses to other Korean squads in the past.
Just in 2011, in the 26th FIBA Asia Championships in Wuhan, Korea ended the Filipinos’ dream of making it to the Olympics as they dealt Gilas, then coached by Rajko Toroman, a 70-68 defeat in the third-place battle.
Filipino fans may also remember Lee Sang-min's buzzer-beating three-pointer in the 2002 Asian Games, which the South Koreans won, 69-68.
South Korea coach Yoo Jae-hak stressed that though they have shown mastery over Philippines in past games, they are not assured of victory especially as Gilas will be backed by a vociferous crowd.
A victory over South Korea tonight will assure Gilas of a berth in the world championships, which will be their first appearance in the world stage since 1978.
“When we feel that the pressure gets too much, when I feel it’s getting too heavy, we talk about it. We keep reminding ourselves that this is a privilege,” Reyes reflected after last night’s victory. “So instead of pressure, we try to inject a sense of appreciation.”
“When you play Gilas Pilipinas, you’re not playing against a team, you’re playing against a country,” he sai.d “That’s the best way we could put it, and that’s the spirit that carries us.”
Tournament favorites Iran will take on Chinese-Taipei in the other semi-finals clash. Iran outclassed Jordan, while Chinese-Taipei sent defending champions China packing in their quarterfinal assignments yesterday.
The winner of the two semifinal games today will battle for FIBA Asia supremacy in Sunday’s final.