Korean heartbreak is nothing new for Gilas fans

MANILA, Philippines - Philippine cage fans are in a funk. The telecast of the 82-70 thumping by South Korea was not a good way to end a Monday.

But to an older generation of hoops addicts, whenever a match with South Korea was announced in the Asian Basketball Confederation championships (now FIBA Asia), images of Shin Dong-Pa running through double or triple screens for a quick-release jumper or the clutch shooting guard Kim Yong-ki penetrating the defense are recalled.

In the 1969 ABC, Shin fired 48 points as South Korea whipped the Philippines, 95-86, in the final. In the 1970 Asian Games basketball tournament, the Philippines beat South Korea, 70-65, but Shin’s crew eventually won the gold medal as the Filipinos to Taiwan, Israel and Japan.

South Korea and basketball heartbreak go hand-in-hand for Filipinos. Allan Caidic’s drive called a charging foul in the crucial seconds of the 1986 Asian Games. Olsen Racela missing two free throws against South Korea in the 2002 Asian Games semis. The series of missed free throws by the Philippines which lost to South Korea in the battle for bronze medal at the 2011 FIBA Asia. And the terrible loss in the 2014 Asian Games after leading by double-digits. 

“They play like us. They are patient, chipping away at our lead. Before you know it, the South Koreans have gained momentum,” said two-time Olympian Ed Roque in an interview for a forthcoming book on Philippine international basketball campaigns. 

In the Philippines’ Jones Cup loss, there was no inkling that the nationals will be blown away. Despite missing Andray Blatche and Ranidel de Ocampo playing sparingly, the nationals kept pace with the South Koreans. The South Koreans had two 6-foot-9 players and a 7-foot-3 beanpole Ha Seungjin, who himself still has a lot to learn. 

When the Filipinos appeared to lose their energy in the third quarter, coach Tab Baldwin inserted Terence Romeo and Calvin Abueva to keep up with the hustling South Koreans. 

Immediately, Romeo sparked the team with a twisting lay-up, a high floater off the arms of Ha which sent the crowd roaring and was replayed several times in the live feed. Unfortunately, the Philippines was not able to shut the passing lanes, box out the South Korean big men or even shadow the fast-moving forwards.

The South Koreans stepped on the gas and grabbed a 69-58 lead with 4:40 left in the game. Taunting the Philippines’ shooters, the South Koreans used a zone defense instinctively knowing only Romeo and Gary David were scoring. As jumpers refused to fall or lay-ups were frustrated, the Philippines failed to sink a field goal and the South Koreans corralled the rebounds easily. 

“Nagkanya-kanya na” as cage fans would say in an individual desire to score quickly after a defensive error conceded a South Korean basket. The hard work to craft an offensive pattern vanished. 

Baldwin has had this team for a short time and he is trying to make them play as one with fewer than 30 days left before the FIBA Asia tournament. It is a difficult job, especially as he reins in some of his players’ tendency to play one-on-one and sometimes not moving well in defense. 

The Jones Cup will see how far they can go as they face Russia Tuesday, Japan on Wednesday and the much-awaited clash with 2013 FIBA Asia champ Iran. Right now, Filipinos stung by South Korean wins in the past will have to live with this latest defeat. – Rappler.com