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Tricky path for Gilas

Gilas Pilipinas faces a tricky situation despite cruising into the quarterfinals of the FIBA Asia Cup as two familiar foes could spoil any positives that the Filipinos gained after sweeping Group B of the tournament held in Beirut, Lebanon.

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South Korea and Japan were playing at presstime in a qualification round for the quarterfinals to determine which team Gilas faces tomorrow night at the Nouhad Nawfal Sports Complex, and history have shown that nothing comes easy when the Philippines faces one of them.

Gilas gained passage to the tournament’s last eight after victories over China, Iraq and Qatar. It also gave the Chot Reyes-coached Nationals the luxury of avoiding an earlier showdown with either Australia or New Zealand – first-timers in the rebranded FIBA Asia competition.

The two Oceania nations likewise made it to the quarters by topping their respective groups, and the Filipinos will avoid either country until the finals, should they reach that desired destination.

No one has played the role of perennial thorn more than South Korea. Saved for the memorable semifinal win in the 2013 FIBA Asia Championship at the Mall of Asia Arena, the Filipinos absorbed some of their most painful defeats in both the FIBA Asia and Asian Games by the South Koreans.

And a possible duel looms large after South Korea ended its Group C assignment with a shock 76-75 victory over New Zealand on a marginal freethrow by Ung Heo in the dying seconds Saturday.

Despite beating a New Zealand that played sans brothers Tai and Corey Webster, South Korea should enter the knockout rounds with confidence running high.

Among the Koreans who have impressed in the tournament were Lee Jonghyun, Jongkyu Kim and Kim Sunhyung.

Standing in Korea’s way is Japan, which placed second in Group D losing only to top team Australia, 84-68, in Tuesday’s tournament opener.

Japan is bannered by naturalized player Ira Brown, the 35-year-old Texan who debuted in last year’s FIBA Asia Challenge in Iran.

Brown is averaging 8.0 points, 6.0 rebounds and 2.7 assists for a Japanese team that has a balanced scoring attack.