Two months ago, Kieffer Alas believed, “Ang team namin ay para sa World Cup.”
On Saturday morning in Doha, Qatar, the second-generation stalwart turned that belief into reality.
Alas led Gilas Pilipinas Boys’ remarkable comeback against the highly-favored young Akatsuki of Japan, securing a 64-59 victory.
This win not only advanced them to the final four of the 2023 FIBA Under-16 Asian Championship but also earned them a ticket to the Under-17 World Cup next year in Turkey.
The Philippines have also made the 2014 and 2018 editions of the global meet.
For the past 14 years, the Philippines and Japan alternated wins, with the former eking out a 73-66 victory over the latter in the 2015 edition of the tournament in Jakarta.
This time, however, the young Pinoys had to dig deep.
Figuring in a nip-and-tuck affair, Alas took charge early in the final frame, scoring eight of his 29 points in the closing minutes and giving Gilas a tight 56-55 lead with just under five minutes left in the game.
Edryn Morales then pickpocketed Yoshinosuke Murakami for a fastbreak layup, but Muraki was able to get it back on the other end to stay in step with Gilas.
In a tense moment, Ginga Sembo was able to clean up a Japan miss, cutting the lead to just a solitary point, 60-59, with 1:59 left.
Alas made the right play on the other end, finding Bonn Daja for a floater. It was déjà vu in the next possession as Alas once again found Daja for the dagger.
Besides his 29-point outing, Alas also grabbed nine rebounds, dished out three assists, and had a steal and a block.
Joaquin Ludovice and Velasquez chipped in 11 and 10 points, respectively.
Japan, who had been dominating the tournament prior to this game, was led by the 12 points of Shogo Takata. Sembo and Kenichiro Benedict both chipped in 10 apiece, with the latter also grabbing 14 rebounds.
Also advancing to the World Cup are Australia, China, and New Zealand.
The young Boomers blasted Jordan, 117-50, the young Dragons escaped Iran, 62-56, while the young Tall Blacks hammered Qatar, 110-33.
Now, the Philippines takes on Australia in a first-time-ever encounter in the under-16 division.
Philippines 64 – Alas 29, Ludovice 11, Velasquez 10, Daja 6, Amos 4, Williams 4, Alegre 0, Chua 0, Daja 0, Diao 0, Gomez De Liano 0, Morales 0.
Japan (59) – Takata 12, Benedict 10, Sembo 10, Murakami 8, Nakamura 8, Shiratani 5, Honda 4, Wakano 2, Shingo 0, Takahashi 0.
Quarterscores: 16-16; 25-35; 46-45; 64-59.