By JONAS TERRADO
Gilas Pilipinas got a bit of help from Lady Luck down the stretch to score a rare repeat victory over South Korea, 82-77, and complete a six-game sweep of the FIBA Asia Cup Qualifiers at the Angeles University Foundation Sports and Cultural Center in Pampanga.
Justine Baltazar scored an uncontested dunk with 31.7 seconds left to give the Philippines a 79-75 after being in the right place at the right time when South Korea appeared to have forced a turnover during a scramble for the ball.
Baltazar’s dunk after finding an open space seemed like an ironic end to the second meeting of the two old nemesis after South Korean coach Cho Sanghyun described SJ Belangel’s game-winning three in their first meeting last Wednesday as a “lucky shot.”
Ricardo Ratliffe, the former PBA import who serves as South Korea’s naturalized player, answered with the basket on the next play but Belangel drew an unsportsmanlike foul and split his two free throws while Dwight Ramos made two of his final four charities to seal the victory.
Coach Tab Baldwin’s side, a collection of PBA draftees part of the Gilas pool and collegiate standouts mostly from Ateneo and a few others from UAAP teams, beat South Korea in back-to-back games, something the Philippines has not done since winning the 1985 ABC Championship, the country’s last continental championship.
Prior to the start of the Clark window, the Philippines’ only win over South Korea in major international competitions like FIBA tournaments and the Asian Games since that ABC triumph was during the dramatic semifinal victory in the 2013 FIBA Asia Championship at Mall of Asia Arena.
Gilas finished the continental qualifiers by topping Group A and momentum going into its campaigns in the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Belgrade, Serbia where it will face the host country and Dominican Republic for a chance to reach the semis.
Also scheduled for the young Filipino cagers is the main FIBA Asia Cup competition set Aug. 12 to 28 in Jakarta, Indonesia.
Ramos, the dashing 6-foot-4 guard who is perhaps the most consistent Gilas player of the just-concluded window, had 19 points, three rebounds, five assists and two steals to play a key role in the win.
Kai Sotto, RJ Abarrientos and Jordan Heading, who missed the first meeting against the South Koreans due to a hip injury, were the other double-digit scorers with 10 points apiece.
Ratliffe finished with 20 points and 13 rebounds while Hyunjung Lee, who plays for Davidson in the US NCAA, added 13 points and eight rebounds for South Korea.