Texters clinch top spot; 'The Beast' is back for Alaska

Talk ‘N Text wasted no time in formally securing the top spot after the elimination round and that precious twice-to-beat advantage in the quarterfinals that goes with it.

Saving their best for last, the Tropang Texters outclassed stubborn Petron Blaze in the crunch, leading to a methodical 95-82 win Thursday night that cemented their hold of the lead in the PBA Philippine Cup at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum.

Spitfire guard Jayson Castro drilled in 14 of his game-high 23 points in the second half while getting ample support from his teammates as Talk ‘N Text notched its fourth straight win and 11th overall against two defeats.

Kelly Williams tallied 14 points while Ryan Reyes and Jimmy Alapag combined for 23 markers for the Texters, who also essayed a 92-82 win over the Boosters in their initial encounter this season last Nov. 7.

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Interestingly, the Tropang Texters, who will wrap up its campaign in the inter-intra elimination format against crowd favorite Barangay Ginebra on Dec. 9, also extended their mastery of the Boosters to eight games.

After trailing by as many as eight and 38-44 at the break, the Tropang Texters got going in the third, dropping a 16-3 run to take a 54-47 cushion off Williams’ two made freebies.

“I’m really happy with the way we played defense in the second half,” noted TNT mentor Norman Black. “Everybody buckled up on defensively.”

“We get a twice to beat advantage which is our goal from the very beginning.  We’re very balanced on offense and in the second half, we we’re tenacious on defense.”

The Boosters, however, countered with a 19-10 run before Harvey Carey, thanks to Alapag’s nifty feed, made an inside incursion that forged a 66-all count into the final period.

Petron Blaze actually took a 72-68 lead early in the fourth but the Tropang Texters, ignited by their tough defensive stance, dropped a decisive 10-to-nothing run, with Castro racking up four, to gain a 78-72 lead with 6:53 left.

Two made free throws by Alex Cabagnot pulled Petron within 80-81 but TNT dropped a blinding 14-2 wind-up to completely wrap up the victory.
“Ginagawa lang talaga namin ang best namin. Kailangan talaga naming dumepensa kasi du’n nagsisimula ang opensa namin. Gusto talaga namin na maging number 1 para makakuha ng twice-to-beat advantage,” stated Castro.

Arwind Santos finished with 22 points, 14 coming in the opening half, while Cabagnot tallied 17 for the Boosters, who saw their three-game winning streak come to a halt while dropping to 6-7.

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Earlier, Calvin Abueva made his much-awaited comeback a resounding one, coming up with another dominant showing while leading Alaska to a thrilling 88-85 victory over Meralco.

After sitting out the last time out in their sorry 93-96 loss to Barangay Ginebra last Nov. 18 due to a nasal infection, Abueva lived up to his moniker as “The Beast” anew, racking up 20 points and hauling down 18 rebounds.

Those valuable exploits, coupled with Cyrus Baguio’s 19 points and the team’s disciplined plays in the stretch, enabled Alaska to snap an alarming four-game skid while pumping life into its sagging campaign with its sixth win against as many losses, good for fifth alongside Meralco.

"Calvin was all over the place,” beamed Alaska coach Luigi Trillo, who wards avenged their 86-93 defeat to Meralco last Oct. 10. “Calvin's been a warrior all his life and you can see what he brings to the table.”

The Bolts, courtesy of Sol Mercado’s triple, enjoyed an 82-79 cushion but JVee Casio, who tallied nine markers, sank a trey before Mac Baracael drilled in the go-ahead three.

A gutsy lay-up by Baguio extended the Aces’ lead to 87-82 then Reynel Hugnatan completed a three-point play, cutting the Bolts’ deficit  to 87-85.

Getting a pre-emptive foul, Casio converted the tail-end of his two freebies, virtually forging the final count, then rookie Cliff Hodge made a last-gasp three-point attempt and appeared to fish a foul off Abueva in the waning moments, but the game officials insisted the final buzzer has already sounded.

"Ginawa ko lang ang best ko, kasi kailangang manalo," said Abueva, the second overall in the recent rookie draft. “Talagang gusto naming pumasok sa best-of-three (quarterfinals) kaya go hard kami.”

Mac Cardona, who became just the 65th player in league history to join the 5,000 Points’ Club off a floater with 1:38 left in the first canto, finished with 14 points, the same output of playmaker Chris Ross, but he missed a floater from close range with 15 seconds left that could have tied the game at 87.
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