Mark Angelo Mañez and Vincent Kierk Tugnao

Gilas Pilipinas U16 fought back from the grave as they went through a cliffhanger in their 64-59 squeaker over a tough Japan Squad at the 2023 FIBA U16 Asian Championships inside Al-Gharafa SC Indoor Hall in Doha, Saturday morning (PhST).

Photo Courtesy of GMA Sports PH

The victory also let them seal the last ticket to next year's U17 World Cup in Turkey, joining Australia, New Zealand and China.

Kiefer Alas took over for the Philippines as he plowed his way through the Japanese interior. He chalked up a solid 29-marker performance, coupled with 9 boards, 3 assists, a steal and a block.

Coach Josh Reyes' squadron started off hot, streaking in 7 unanswered points before Japan rose up and tied things after 10 minutes at 16 apiece.

Joaquin Ludovice, the hero in their 95-71 blowout over South Korea, aided the Philippine defensives with his own 11 markers on top of his three rebounds, an assist and two steals. 

Kurt Velasquez also contributed 10 markers, three boards, a dime and five interceptions—a major factor in giving their opponents serious turnover issues.

However, the Japanese, with three foreign-born players at their helm, started muscling over their Southeast Asian rivals and took a double-digit cushion with 45-35 at the half.

But it was the boys in blue who took matters into their own hands as they evenly chopped coach Alejandro Martinez's pack despite being severely outmuscled in the rebounding department. 

The Filipino spirited fightback, which overcame a 10-point deficit and led by one at the end of the third, was bannered by Alas when he blasted 16 points built on mid range shots.

At fourth, the Philippines doubled down to widen the gap when Alas started a rally with his pull-up jumper, eight minutes left on the clock.

Bonn Daja helped Alas in surviving a late limbo by hitting two jumpshots, marking a significant contribution for booking a World Cup ticket.

From thereon, the famous 2-3 zone defense capped the run for Gilas U16, disrupting the Japanese to adjust for counter attacking in time and dealing with five turnovers in final minutes.

Batang Gilas grabbed 12 steals, where five of them came from Kurt Nathan Velasquez.

On the other hand, the Japanese hauled in 58 (25 offensive) rebounds compared to the 36 of Gilas. Chusonjakku Shiratani and Kenichiro Benedict each picked up 14.

The Gilas Pilipinas U16 team will face the Aussies on Saturday for a chance to grab a seat in the championship match.

Edited by Jostle Doen Pilayre