By Mark Angelo Mañez


MANILA –– No ‘lucky shot’ this time around.

Youth-laden Gilas Pilipinas survived yet another Korean scare, and eventually sweeping Group A of the 2021 FIBA Asia Cup Qualifiers with a gutsy 82-77 decision at the AUF Sports and Cultural Center, Sunday afternoon.

Dwight Ramos paced once more for the hosts with an impressive 19-point, two-rebound, and five-assist orchestration. Naturalized center Ange Kouame and rising 7-foot-3 prodigy Kai Sotto took turns in manning the paint, combining 17 markers and 15 boards for the sweep.

With Gilas hanging by the thread, 77-75, Will Navarro averted further disaster after a broken play by tossing the ball to an open Justine Baltazar for the throwdown.

The Koreans waxed hot from tipoff with a 9-0 early run, but Coach Tab Baldwin quickly flicked in necessary adjustments and kept the game close, 20-18 after ten minutes.

Pressure slowly built upon both teams as they traded shots near halftime before Gilas held on to a precarious four-point cushion, 38-34.

Gilas tore out a page from the Korean playbook and started plunging long-range bombs, keeping Korea out of their radar, even taking a 9-point cushion early second half. They converted 14 shots (on 37 attempts) from beyond rainbow distance as compared to South Korea’s 10/35.

Ra Gun-A meanwhile paced the Koreans with another 20-point 13-board double-double despite getting hobbled with fatigue and an undisclosed injury.

Gilas will continue their preparations before heading to Belgrade, Serbia for the Olympic Qualifying Tournament where they will face the hosts and the Dominican Republic. South Korea meanwhile will head to Kaunas, Lithuania for their own OQT quest. Only the winners of the four OQTs will fly to Tokyo for the Olympic Games scheduled in a month’s time.

Watch the player highlights here: 2021 FIBA Asia Cup Qualifiers YouTube Channel