Things have been falling into place for Alaska. The same thing, however, can’t be said of free-falling Barangay Ginebra San Miguel.
Riding high on their newfound swagger, the surging Aces compounded the woes of the Gin Kings with a clinical 87-69 victory Sunday night to gain a share of second spot in the PBA Philippine Cup at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum.
Do-it-all rookie Calvin Abueva clustered 19 points while heady playmaker JVee Casio outdueled Ginebra counterpart LA Tenorio with 16 markers, highlighted by four triples, to help Alaska gain its fourth consecutive win and forge a tie for second with idle Rain or Shine, toting identical 4-2 marks behind defending champion Talk ‘N Text (6-0).
"When you talk about Abueva, he's a game-changer," Aces coach Luigi Trillo said of his prized rookie. "When he comes in you feel na nakaka-intimidate sya. Him at the four (power forward) spot, it's amazing because he's only six-one."
Cyrus Baguio brushed off a mild knee injury with 14 points while center Sonny Thoss and reserve guard RJ Jazul tallied 12 apiece for the Aces, who broke loose in the second half behind a tough defensive stance complemented by an accurate outside shooting.
Returning Dylan Ababou collected 14 points but reigning MVP Mark Caguioa and Tenorio were shackled down to a combined 22 markers, no thanks to the Aces’ suffocating defensive pressure.
The Gin Kings, who got off to an audacious two-and-oh start this conference, suffered their fourth straight defeat, suggesting trouble may be brewing on the team.
With the Aces trailing 13-18 early, Abueva quickly made his presence felt, racking up nine points to give Alaska a 25-22 cushion after the first 12 minutes.
The Gin Kings managed to pull within 30-32 off a Chris Ellis lay-up but the Aces cranked up their defense a notch higher while scoring 14 of the last 22 points to enjoy a 46-38 lead at the break.
Ahead 57-48, Abueva and Jazul combined for the next seven points that gave the Aces a 64-52 bubble into the fourth.
Two Tenorio free throws coupled with an Ellis bucket cut their deficit to 56-64 but Aces suddenly wrought havoc on both ends, uncorking a decisive 17-6 onslaught–capped by a Jazul runner–that stretch their lead to an insurmountable 81-61 cushion, virtually sealing the deal.
Meanwhile, the referees committed an early blunder, calling a 24-second shot clock violation against the Aces despite Mac Baracael’s two-point attempt clearly hitting the rim and the leather eventually collared by center Sonny Thoss.
Thinking the shot clock was reset, the Aces recycled their offensive set, with Baracel issuing a hand-off to JVee Casio, who connected a triple but the referees nullified the basket. That prompted Trillo to rush to the committee table, only to be whistled for improper bench decorum.
Earlier, San Mig Coffee got a big bucket from PJ Simon coupled with a bigger break from the referees to preserve a controversial 92-91 victory over hard-fighting Barako Bull.
Former two-time MVP James Yap topscored with 21 points but it was the clutch elbow jumper of his backcourt buddy Simon that gave the Mixers the marginal basket with 19.4 seconds remaining.
In the ensuing play, Josh Urbiztondo, who previously played for B-Meg (now San Mig Coffee) drove hard to the lane and fed a speeding Enrico Villanueva, who flipped the leather that circled around the basket.
Then San Mig center Rafi Reavis clearly tapped the ball out and, in the process, collared the rebound, leaving the Energy Cola players and staff up in arms as time expired.
Convinced they got the short end of the decision, Villanueva and Urbiztondo rushed to commissioner Chito Salud to plead the case.
But Salud defended the non-call, saying: “That’s a good call. That’s a legal play. Any player–whether he’s an offensive or defensive–can swipe the ball in or swipe the ball out even the leather remains on top of the cylinder.”
Salud then explained what the league’s house rules in calling an offensive basket interference. “Goal-tending is (called) when the ball is going down before it touches the rim. But once it touches the rim, any player can swipe it in or swipe it out.”
The tense win, which enabled them to snap a two-game losing skid and improve their record to 3-2, should provide the Mixers a needed breather after absorbing a demoralizing 79-80 defeat inflicted by Rain or Shine last Wednesday.
"We really needed this one and we needed to pull this one out in the fourth quarter,” stated San Mig coach Tim Cone.
"I don't see what the controversy was,” Cone added. “It's legal in our league. It's true, he tapped it or knocked it off the rim, but it's legal. It's a FIBA rule. It's also a smart play by Reavis. He does that all the time. He's always alert for it and it's a smart, intelligent play by Rafi.”
Ronald Tubid, who sparked the Energy Cola’s fightback in the fourth, finished with 17 points while Villanueva added 16 markers but those failed to stop Barako Bull from dropping their fourth game in six starts.
Barako Bull forward Danny Seigle, who showed up in street clothes, aired his emotions through his Twitter account @dannyseigle42, saying: “It’s games like these that make everyone a fan of the sport. And just like that, a call could possibly ruin it.”
Teammate Doug Kramer, via his personal account @DougKramer44, also fumed, saying: “That's goaltending!!!”
SanMig Coffee 92 – Yap 21, Simon 15, Ramos 10, Barroca 9, Gonzales 9, Pingris 9, De Ocampo 8, Devance 5, Reavis 5, Villanueva 1.
Barako 91 – Tubid 17, Villanueva 16, Urbiztondo 14, Kramer 12, Pennisi 12, Najorda 9, Yap 5, Anthony 4, Cervantes 2, Alvarez 0, Ballesteros 0.
Quarterscores: 17-24, 42-48, 66-61, 92-91.
Alaska 87 – Abueva 19, Casio 16, Baguio 14, Jazul 12, Thoss 12, Hontiveros 5, Espinas 4, Baracael 2, Dela Cruz 2, Reyes 1, Eman 0.
Ginebra 69 – Ababou 14, Caguioa 12, Tenorio 10, Maierhofer 7, Mamaril 6, Cortez 6, Raymundo 5, Ellis 4, Wilson 3, Jensen 2, Helterbrand 0.
Quarterscores: 25-22, 46-38, 64-52, 87-69
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