Gilas Pilipinas displayed remarkable composure in crunch time to top South Korea once again, 82-77, in the 2021 FIBA Asia Cup Qualifiers’ third window, Sunday at the AUF Sports and Cultural Center in Angeles, Pampanga.
Justine Baltazar, William Navarro, SJ Belangel, and Dwight Ramos all came through in the clutch in another showcase of the young Filipino dribblers’ maturity beyond their years on the way to a three-game sweep of the window.
“Obviously overjoyed to take three wins from this window and two against South Korea. I think that’s a great credit to this basketball team and these young players,” expressed head coach Tab Baldwin post-game.
Ramos spearheaded the Nationals’ attack with 19 points on 5-of-9 shooting from the outside, along with five assists, three rebounds, and two steals.
“It was a little personal. We want to show that we can hang with the big dogs like Korea,” said the versatile 6-foot-5 winger, who had 16 points and five rebounds in their pulsating 81-78 victory last Wednesday.
Ramos and Co. were actually sitting on a six-point lead with 2:18 to play, but the Koreans were just too gritty. A Yang Hong-seok triple and a split by Ricardo Ratliffe narrowed the gap, 75-77, with 55.2 seconds remaining.
South Korea appeared to have shackled the home team through its stifling defense, but William Navarro turned a broken play into a find that led to Baltazar’s one-handed flush from the left wing to widen the gap to four.
Ricardo Ratliffe carved space inside for a deuce with 25.5 seconds remaining, but Lee Dae-sung was called for a foul on Belangel afterward. The latter then split his charities to make it a three-point Gilas lead, 80-77.
The following possession saw Ramos split his own freebies. He went 1-of-2 in another trip to the line seconds later, but Kai Sotto was there to collar the miss as Gilas went on to collect the five-point victory.
“I thought the boys played well. Still, a lot to work on. A tremendous amount that we still have to learn and get comfortable with in terms of our systems, but this team has a real fighting spirit and that was evident again today,” said Baldwin.
Sotto, Jordan Heading, and RJ Abarrientos each produced 10 markers in the victory that also completed their six-game sweep of the Qualifiers.
But serving as the x-factor in the triumph was the 6-foot-6 Navarro, who filled up the stat sheet with eight points, four rebounds, an assist, a steal, and a block in the 21 minutes and 42 seconds he was utilized.
The tandem of Belangel and Baltazar, on the other hand, contributed six points each, with the latter adding six caroms to his name.
Gilas now has its sights set on the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Belgrade, Serbia on June 29-July 4. But it will take on Asian powerhouse China first for a pair of tune-up games as part of their preparations.
Team Dragon, which is coached by former two-time Olympian Du Feng, is also gearing up for its own OQT in Victoria, Canada.
Meanwhile, Korea was paced by Ratliffe with 20 points and 13 rebounds in the defeat, which was their second in the three games they played in Clark. The team finished the Qualifiers with a 4-2 record.
Just like the Philippines and China, South Korea is also set to see action in the Olympic qualifiers in Kaunas, Lithuania.
Philippines 82 — Ramos 19, Sotto 10, Heading 10, Abarrientos 10, Navarro 8, Kouame 7, Baltazar 6, Belangel 6, Nieto 3, Go 3, Chiu 0.
Korea 77 — Ra 20, Lee HJ 13, Yang 12, Lee DS 9, Lee SH 8, Kim 8, Jeon 3, Byeon 2, Yeo 2, Ha 0.
Quarterscores: 18-20, 38-34, 56-54, 82-77.