Gilas Pilipinas delivered one big coup Saturday night that drowned away the sorrows of Philippine basketball.
Team Phl carved an epic feat, leaning on its brave fighting heart to beat out arch rival South Korea, 86-79, in their duel for an outright passage into the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Spain.
Marcus Douthit limped off the floor never to return with 25 minutes left to play, but the homegrown Gilas stars didn’t cringe, standing their ground in the biggest battle of their lives.
Marc Pingris, Ranidel de Ocampo, Japeth Aguilar, Jayson Castro, Gabe Norwood and Jimmy Alapag seized the moment, the bravest souls fighting the Koreans possession per possession, play per play.
With Douthit helpless on the bench with an injured right knee, Pingris, De Ocampo, Aguilar, Castro, Norwood and Alapag carried the dreams and hopes of the country on their shoulders.
Pulling through in the end, the Nationals ended 35 years of wait for a return stint in the conclave of the world’s best.
A bonus is a shot at the crown at the close of the 27th FIBA Asia Championship at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City at 7:30 p.m. Sunday.
The Filipinos seek to end a 27-year title drought in the Asian meet versus Iran, 79-60 winner over Chinese Taipei in their own semis showdown.
Korea and Chinese Taipei fight for third place at 5 p.m. The winner joins the Philippines and Iran in representing Asia in the 2014 world joust.
Emerging victorious in the great battle, coach Chot Reyes and many in the venue couldn’t hold their emotion amidst great jubilation.
De Ocampo and Pingris were in tears in appearing in the post-game conference with the media.
“Puso lang talaga ito,” said Pingris.
“Hindi malaki ang kinikita namin dito. Para lang talaga sa bayan ang laban namin,” Pingris also said.
It’s hard to remember all the frustrations and disappointments the Philippines had suffered at the hands of Korea. All these now go down deep in the memory bank as Team Phl carved the epic feat.
Reyes and his troops eased away the bitter memories of Busan, Tianjin and Wuhan.
On Douthit’s ouster, Pingris became the team’s defensive backbone and finished with a huge double-double performance with 16 points and 10 rebounds.
Castro, deadly on daring drives, topscored with 17 points while Alapag added 14 on timely three-pointers.
As Alapag knocked in his last of four treys, Gilas took a five-point lead at 84-79 with 54 ticks left.
The cheering crowd started celebrating as Gabe Norwood foiled a three-point try by Kim Mingoo in the next play.
There were no Lee Sang Mins to save Korea from defeat this time.
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