SEVILLE, Spain – "We belong here."
Those were the words of Gilas Pilipinas team captain Jimmy Alapag shortly after the Philippines nearly defeated Argentina, the team FIBA ranked as third best in the world.
With less than a minute to go in the ball game, Alapag drained a three-pointer from way beyond the three-point after naturalized big man Andray Blatched scored on a lay-up to get Gilas within one point, 82-81.
That was just one of the crucial long-range bombs Alapag dropped on Argentina.
Coming off a time out, Alapag nailed two straight threes to bring momentum back to the Philippines who started the game on fire leading early, 12-2.
At the start of the fourth quarter, Alapag hit another trifecta followed by five-straight points from Ranidel De Ocampo to get Gilas back in the game, 71-66.
"The Mighty Mouse" finished the game with 15 points on 5-out-of-7 shooting from beyond the arc. It was a fine performance that he said he consciously wanted to have to honor the legions of Filipinos supporting the national team.
"It's rare to have an opportunity to play the number three team in the world, seeing all our kababayans that came out here to show their support, who wouldn't go out there to play a game that they can be proud of," said Alapag.
But he told reporters after the game, "I needed one more."
"We had the number three-team in the world down to one possession and, you know, it happens sometimes," recalled Alapag with a smile relishing the chance he had to compete against the best the world has to offer.
It was a smile of someone who truly enjoyed being on the court in the international stage - a place he said he might not be in again. Alapag told BTV Hoops' Jinno Rufino that this will be his last tournament.
While speaking with Rappler, Alapag left all the supporters of Gilas Pilipinas a message.
"To all of our kababayans and everyone supporting back home in the Philippines and all over the world, we thank you guys, for all the prayers and the inspiration.
"We're here. We're gonna keep fighting for you guys and we wanna make sure that you're part of the national team," he added.
To Alapag, this is only the beginning.
"We belong here, we just gotta make sure we stay here."
– with reports from Naveen Ganglani/Rappler.com