By John Bryan Ulanday
Unbeaten Batang Gilas seek to punch a World Cup ticket when it plays a still undetermined opponent in the quarterfinals of the Fiba U18 Asian Championship today at the Stadium 29 in Nonthaburi, Thailand.
Batang Gilas face either Bahrain or Chinese-Taipei which were disputing the last quarterfinals ticket at press time to cap the qualification round of the Asian meet serving as qualifier for the Fiba U19 World Cup next year.
A win will tow Batang Gilas to the semi-finals and assure them of a World Cup berth for the first time in 39 years regardless of the results of their next games.
The top four Asian nations will be given tickets to the world stage of Fiba boys’ basketball.
Led by the twin towers Kai Sotto and AJ Edu, the 34th-ranked Batang Gilas earned an outright quarterfinal seat on Tuesday after a gigantic 73-63 victory over the 11-time U18 Asian titlist and 12th-ranked boys squad China.
That win pushed Batang Gilas to an immaculate 3-0 slate to top Group B after also dispatching Lebanon, 75-53, and the United Arab Emirates, 92-49.
The Nationals also averted being dropped to the qualification round which could have been an even tougher route to reach the Final Eight.
Spearheading Batang Gilas’ huge upset of China were the 6-foot-10 Edu and the 7-foot-1 Sotto who proved to be great walls that blocked the Chinese. The China team was undersized than the Filipinos for the first time ever.
The Filipino-Nigerian Edu dropped 13 points, 14 rebounds and five blocks while Sotto backstopped him with 11 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks.
Also instrumental in the victory was the second generation player Dave Ildefonso who tallied a team-high 18 points while Raven Cortez and Rhayyan Amsali racked up 13 points apiece in a well-balanced Batang Gilas attack.
Other unbeaten teams which gained outright quarterfinal passages were South Korea, Iran and Australia.
Korea will play against the winner of China and Indonesia clash; Iran tussles with the winner of India and New Zealand pairing while Australia clashes with the winner of Japan-Lebanon matchup.
Should Batang Gilas manage to eke out a victory, this would be a fitting follow-up to their World Cup appearance last July in Argentina in the Fiba U17 age group.
Behind then lone tower Sotto, Batang Gilas finished 13th out of 16 nations after pulling massive upsets of New Zealand and Egypt.