We're going to Spain.
Gilas Pilipinas summoned the strength, the will and heart to finally solve the South Korea enigma with a pulsating 86-79 win in their semifinal encounter of the FIBA Asia Championship last night at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City.
Marc Pingris, playing against bigger centers in the second half when naturalized center Marcus Douthit was sidelined because of his injured right shin, best typified the national team's resolve as he collected 16 points and 10 rebounds.
The fact that the 6-foot-6 Pingris did it despite being bothered by his own injury - right hamstring - was enough to inspire the whole team, which finally defeated the Koreans after some years and games that ended in frustrations.
Jayson Castro William came off the bench to score a team-high 17 points, Jimmy Alapag added 14 points, and Ranidel de Ocampo had 11 points to power Gilas Pilipinas, which was formed two months before the Asian championship.
With the victory, the Nationals earned a trip to Spain, where the top three finishers in this FIBA Asia edition will advance for the World Championship next year. This is the first time that the Philippines will play in the worlds since 1978 when Manila hosted the event.
The Philippines also earned a finals meeting tonight against Iran, which downed Taiwan, 79-60, in the other semifinal pairing. Gametime is at 7:30.
When the game ended, players cried at center court in front of a delirious partisan crowd that was equally emotional following the win. A teary-eyed Gilas Pilipinas coach Chot Reyes kneeled on the floor. So did team manager Butch Antonio.
"To tell you the truth, I don't know how we did it," said Reyes, who finally found a way to win as a national coach after his disappointing stint in 2007 Asian championship when the team placed ninth overall in Tokushima, Japan.
Down at halftime break, 36-39, the 5-foot-10 Castro ignited the national team's attack in the third quarter as he recorded nine points in an 11-0 blast that gave Gilas Pilipinas a 47-39 advantage with 6:04 left in period.
A two-handed slam dunk by Japeth Aguilar at the buzzer to end the third gave the Nationals a 65-56 edge.
The Koreans rallied back behind the hot hands of Kim Mingoo, who scored 27 points on 5-of-11 shooting from the three-point area. Korea even led 75-73 on two free throws by naturalized forward Lee Seung Jun with 3:41 to play.
But Alapag, who is playing in his third FIBA Asia tournament, answered with a triple to make it 76-75. The last time the Koreans had the lead was when Kim Tae-Sool made a basket, 77-76, and that was when the Filipinos made a key run.
After De Ocampo made a basket, Pingris collared a defensive rebound in the next play. That led to de Ocampo burying a booming three to make it 81-77. After another two free throws from Yang Dongeun, Alapag nailed a triple for an 84-79 lead with 54 seconds to play.
Gabe Norwood made a crucial block on Kim that finally sealed the win, leading to a big celebration inside the arena where almost 22,000 fans witnessed the landmark win.
The Filipinos lost to the Koreans several times in the past, including heartbreaking setbacks in the last decade. During the 2002 Busan Asian Games, the coach Jong Uichico (now an assistant coach with Gilas) lost to Korea (69-68) in the semifinals, while the original Smart Gilas Pilipinas was defeated in 2011 in the bronze medal game of the Asian championship in Wuhan (70-68).
The Philippines started strong when it took a 13-10 lead on a basket by Aguilar midway through the first period. Korea's Kim Joo-Sung, however, scored seven of his team's nine straight points to take a 19-13 advantage late in the first quarter.
The opening period ended with Koreans up, 19-15.
Castro opened the second quarter with back-to-back layups that tied the score at 19-all, although the Koreans answered with another run of their own, this time a 9-2 run for a 28-21 lead with 6:24 to play in the quarter.
After Douthit made two free throws and Jimmy Alapag buried a triple, the 6-foot-11 Douthit hobbled back on defense when a Korean defender hit his injured right shin while trying to score inside the paint with still five minutes to go.
Douthit went back on the bench and was sent to the locker room to be treated just before halftime break with Korea up, 39-36.
Taiwan and Korea will dispute the third and last World Championships slot in their 5 p.m. faceoff for third place.