By Leobert Julian A. de la Peña
The Gilas Pilipinas Under-16 basketball national team is for real.
After tasting their first-ever victory against the South Korean national team at the FIBA juniors level, the Gilas Boys continued its magical run after shocking Japan, 64-59, during the quarterfinals of the global hoops games last September 23, 2023, held in Doha, Qatar.
With the huge victory, the young Gilas squad just formalized their seat in the upcoming FIBA U-17 World Cup to be held in Turkey next year.
This is the third time that the Gilas youth qualified for the prestigious basketball tournament after replicating the feat they achieved last 2014 and 2018.
However, they have to dig deep in this year’s edition after falling in their opening game against China before scoring consecutive wins to reach the semifinals of the FIBA Asian Championship.
To get to the FIBA Juniors World Cup, Gilas had to finish the Asian Qualifiers with at least a top 4 standing and they did it in style after taking down Japan to enter the semifinals.
It was a come-from-behind victory for the youngsters after trailing by double-digits heading into the second half when the Japanese squad torched them from outside the three-point range.
Emphasizing the need to neutralize Japan’s shooting prowess was head coach Josh Reyes who quickly countered with a 2-3 zone defense. That adjustment paid off dividends as their effort in containing their assigned areas limited the opponent’s attempts from downtown that paved the way for their dramatic comeback late in the third quarter.
With Gilas down by nine points, Kieffer Alas exploded at the most perfect time to help the national team trim their deficit to just two points, 43-45.
The Filipinos then took full control of the game after a clutch three-pointer was buried by Joaquin Ludovice to help Gilas retake the lead, 46-45.
It was a nip-and-tuck affair in the fourth and final frame of the quarterfinal duel as Japan still fought toe-to-toe with the Filipinos, disallowing Gilas to balloon their advantage to double digits with their baskets from the shaded lane.
With Japan only trailing by a point in the last two minutes, 60-59, the Gilas Boys officially fended them off after Bonn Daja sank two consecutive baskets down the block to increase their lead to five, 64-59.
Gilas then tightened their zone defense to hold Japan scoreless in the final 1:44 of the World Cup-clinching match.
Alas top-scored the Filipinos once again with 29 big points backstopped by Ludovice who chipped in 11 markers, and Kurt Velasquez with 10 points.