Alaska Milk managed things well even with Calvin Abueva limited to playing 15 minutes due to fouls, smothering Meralco, 90-84, Wednesday night to move within a win of a first PBA Final Four in two years.
Cyrus Baguio dished out his usual game and Gabby Espinas and Tony dela Cruz ably filled in for Abueva as the Aces sustained the heat of their three-game closing romp in the elims, gaining the decisive head start in their short Philippine Cup best-of-three quarterfinals showdown with the Bolts.
Alaska has a chance to close out the series in Game Two Friday or Game Three Sunday.
“One game is nothing. We did our job today and we’re gonna get back to work in practice tomorrow,” said Alaska coach Luigi Trillo, underscoring his determination to bring the team to its first semis stint since their 2010 Fiesta Conference title conquest.
“We’re tired but they’re tired too,” Trillo also said, sounding very comfortable in their matchup with the Bolts.
“We’re lucky Sol (Mercado) is coming off a sprain. He’s not the usual Sol Mercado tonight,” the youthful Alaska mentor also pointed out.
The Aces fought the Bolts in their own game – lockdown defense – holding Meralco down to 33 points in the first half and keeping Mercado and his teammates from getting into real groove all the way to the finish.
Baguio more than held his own versus Mercado in their matchup, leading the Aces on offense with 26 points on 3-of-4 three-point shooting, 6-of-8 two-pointers and 5-of-7 charities.
“Alam naming kailangan maglaro ng playoff basketball,” said Baguio, who also produced eight rebounds, four steals, one assist and one block against three turnovers in 35 minutes of play.
Espinas and Dela Cruz played extra minutes off the bench as Abueva went in and out of the game due to fouls.
Espinas and Dela Cruz combined for 32 points and 15 rebounds while Abueva got just six markers and four caroms. The prized Alaska rookie fouled out with over nine minutes left to play.
Abueva picked up a fourth foul early in the third, but the Aces coped with the situation, even uncorking a big run in the quarter to take a 22-point spread at 69-47.
Alaska’s defense held through the end as the Aces pushed the Bolts to the brink of elimination.
“Depensa pa rin ang mindset namin sa next game. Kapag nakadepensa kami ng maganda, susunod na ang opensa namin,” said Baguio. (SB)
ALASKA 90 – Baguio 26, Espinas 19, Dela Cruz 13, Thoss 10, Baracael 9, Abueva 6, Casio 5, Jazul 1, Hontiveros 1, Eman 0, Belasco 0.
MERALCO 84 – Mercado 22,Cardona 14, Reyes 13, Ross 9, Hodge 8, Buenafe 7, Hugnatan 5, Nabong 2, Bulawan 2, Sharma 2, Borboran 0, Salvacion 0.
Quarters: 18-20, 44-33, 74-58, 90-84