The stage is set for Gilas Pilipinas to face South Korea in the quarterfinals of the 2017 FIBA Asia Cup. It’s no secret we’ve had memorable battles with the Koreans over the past 50 years. You can say they're our most bitter rivals in the Asia. As we look forward to tomorrow night’s game, we list down six of the most unforgettable meetings by the two countries in over half a century of rivalry. Let’s not be disappointed, though—not all of them were heartbreakers. There were times as well when we came out on top.
2013 FIBA Asia semifinals (Manila)
This was the match that reduced the manliest Filipino male fans to tears. It couldn’t have been written any better—our hometown, our fans, our turn. Despite Gilas being in the driver’s seat, the Koreans fought back and took the lead with less than four minutes remaining, the spectre of another bitter loss looming over heads once more. A Jimmy Alapag trey, coupled with key baskets from Ranidel De Ocampo and Marc Pingris, and a huge defensive effort from Gabe Norwood propelled the team to an 86-79 win, ending a trail of crushing losses to the worthy arch-rivals.
2002 Asian Games (Busan)
Perhaps our most painful loss of all time in international basketball. The Philippines, locked in its semifinals duel with the host team for a shot in the gold medal game, was up by two points, 68-66, with 24 seconds remaining when Olsen Racela was fouled. Racela, a steady free-throw shooter, uncharacteristically missed both, giving the SoKors a chance. The frenetic battle for the rebound saw the ball finding its way to hotshot Lee Sang Min, who sank a buzzer-beating three that broke the hearts of the Filipinos, losing 69-68.
1998 Asian Games (Bangkok)
The Centennial Team came into the tournament as one of the most prepared national teams in the field, having played in the US against NCAA teams. Coach Tim Cone designed this team to beat top-ranked China, putting premium on height and interior defense. But, of course, the team was looking forward to a Finals showdown with the perennial hoops heavyweight. South Korea, though, seemingly had the same goal. So in their quarterfinals tussle with the Philippines, the Koreans shocked Cone and Co. from the get-go, with small but burly Kang Dong Hee running circles around Johnny Abarrientos and big man Seo Jang Hoon frustrating Marlou Aquino inside. That stinging 103-83 defeat eventually set up our semifinal matchup against the mighty Chinese, which beat us 82-73.
1986 Asian Games (Seoul)
It’s not uncommon to see “home cooking” served by the hosts to its visitors especially via judgement calls. But this was the story of the Philippines—also known as the “golden bronze” team—in their semifinals game versus the SoKors. Coming in as huge underdogs, it started as a cakewalk for the Koreans, building a commanding 21-point lead with over 12 minutes left. But a mammoth rally by the Filipinos saw the lead cut down to one, 103-102, with 10 seconds remaining. A turnover by hotshot Lee Chung Hee saw Allan Caidic lead the break with Hur Jae keeping in step. Hur stepped into Caidic’s path within 10 feet and collided with The Triggerman, who was still to convert the basket. Then these two bum calls happened: first, an offensive foul was assessed against Caidic when it was clear Hur initiated the contact, and, second, the basket was nullified even if the attempt was made before the contact. You couldn’t get any better bulgogi than that.
1973 FIBA Asia (Manila)
It was only right that the two unbeaten teams faced each other for the first and only time in the last game of the tilt, with the winner claiming all the marbles. It was a close game, with the score knotted at 48 apiece at the half. The Filipinos gained momentum in the second half, courtesy of outside sniping from Bogs Adornado and Jimmy Mariano, the resolute defense of Tembong Melencio, and the quarterbacking of Robert Jaworski. With scoring leader Shin Dong Pa being held on a tight leash by Melencio, the nationals cruised to a 90-78 victory, giving the country its fourth championship in seven FIBA Asia tournaments back then.
1967 FIBA Asia (Seoul)
In 1965, the country lost its Asian crown to the Japanese in Kuala Lumpur and was aching for redemption. The concern this time, though, was that the competition would be held in Seoul, home of one of our most heated rivals. The Philippines took care of Japan easily, 81-69, and, like South Korea, won its first eight games to set the stage for a championship match versus the host team. With Ed Ocampo putting the clamps on Korea superstar Shin Dong Pa, holding him down to only 12 points, the Philippines ended up victorious when the dust settled, defeating the Koreans and the hostile environment, 83-80, in one of the most closely fought title games in FIBA Asia history.