August 10, 2013
Eleven years ago on October 12 in one cold night in this metropolitan city called Busan, the Philippines suffered one of its most painful defeats at the hands of the sharpshooting South Koreans, a heart-stopping 69-68 loss that still reeks of stench until now.
I can still remember, clear as day, how we came two free throws or a defensive stop away from a colossal win that would have catapulted us straight into the gold medal round of the Asian Games against the then Great Wall named China.
Up by two points, 68-66, after Olsen Racela buried a massive triple off a rock-solid screen by Asi Taulava with 51 seconds to go, we seized control and pushed ourselves closer to victory. After a crucial stop, Racela returned to the line off a foul by Bang Sung Yoon for a chance to put the pesky Koreans away and give us a win that I know in my heart will reverberate from Batanes up North down to Sulu down South.
But in a twist of fate, we missed the two free throws and, never calling a time out when we still had two and fouling when we still have two fouls to give, and Lee Sang Min flung a three-pointer and a prayer that was answered that sent us crashing into ignominy, instead of glory.
It’s hard to forget the silence, the feeling of melancholy the country felt after that loss. Tears were shed. Grown men, battle tested in many a cage war, were red-eyed and silent. Defeat has never been that painful. It was, as Lito Tacujan, my sports editor at The Philippine STAR, brilliantly penned it, a defeat “worse than death.”
And now the eerie feeling is here again. South Korea’s shadow is inescapable. The ghost of the past has to haunt us on this same day. This time, it will be at the MOA Arena in Pasay City, not Busan. This time, we have our team’s back, the whole of our country’s population, and not thousands of miles away. It’s Gilas Pilipinas against our old, familiar foe.
Welcome to the 27th FIBA-Asia Championship semifinals.
Unless you’re hiding in a cave, you know by now that our Gilas boys blow-torched a tall and stunned Kazakhstan in a lopsided 88-58 win Friday night fueled by a game to remember by Gary David, El Granada to most of us. A couple of hours later, Korea followed suit by machine-gunning its way to a 79-52 rout of Qatar. Unlike in Busan, the stakes are higher here because we’re not just shooting for our first win here since going all the way exactly three decades ago right on our home turf at the Rizal Memorial Coliseum but we’re also eyeing an outright spot in the FIBA World Cup in Spain next year.
Of course, we can still afford to lose this one and gun for the last of three berths in the battle for the bronze against the loser of the other semis showdown pitting powerhouse Iran and Chinese Taipei, which pulled off the biggest upset in the history of the event by hammering down the Great Wall, the once proud and mighty China.
But we will not bet on that because I know in my heart that our Gilas, God bless them all and Coach Chot Reyes, will go all out seeking nothing less than a win. And bitter-sweet revenge. It will not matter if Korea had won 14 of our last 22 meetings on this stage, including nine of the 10 past meetings. That is all water under the bridge now.
This is the present. It’s payback time.
Follow Sportsmaryosep on Twitter: @JoeySVillar
(Photos by Jun Mendoza of The Philippines STAR and Nuki Sabio of FIBA-Asia 2013)