Coach Tim Cone surprised a lot when he allowed his young starts to take charge in Ginebra’s do-or-die tiff against Alaska on Tuesday.
And he didn’t end up disappointed as Aljon Mariano, Kevin Ferrer, and Scottie Thompson all made the Grand Slam-winning mentor look like a genius with their stellar individual performances in the Gin Kings’ 108-97 victory over the Aces.
Thompson was his usual self, finishing with his 10 points, nine rebounds, three steals, and two assists as Ginebra advanced to the semifinals.
“Coach Tim told us that we’re one-man down,” Thompson said, referring to Joe Devance’s plantar fasciitis injury. “So want we did was next guy up. And we all stepped up so it was good for us. Us, newcomers, showed that our heart is the same with the veterans, and that’s what happened today because we really wanted to go to the semis.”
The Santo Tomas studs also had a share in the limelight and Cone did not fail to notice their efforts.
“Aljon and Kevin stepped up big for us,” said Cone. “I think in any knockout game, you have to be the aggressor. You never hear any team that wasn’t aggressive winning. Our young guys were aggressive. Aljon practiced well and he takes advantage of the opportunity. We weren’t surprised that he played well.”
For the two, it was just a matter of being ready when their number gets called.
“Coming to the game, I made sure I was ready because I knew that without Joe, my number will get called,” said Mariano, who tallied a career-best 20 markers and eight boards. “I just told myself to be fearless and be aggressive.”
Ferrer, who posted 15 points, five rebounds, and two steals, also relished the challenge of guarding Calvin Abueva.
“I really studied Calvin’s game. The night after our game, I watched Game 1 on YouTube and saw the good things I did,” he said. “I just enjoyed what I’m doing and I did get some stops. In the end, I was so focused that it seemed like I was playing in the UAAP again.”
Fortunately, all of their sacrifices bore fruit in the end as Ginebra to book the last ticket to the 2017 PBA Philippine Cup semifinals.
“We didn’t want to go on vacation so we really did our best,” said Ferrer.
Mariano added: “We’re so happy because it truly was a total team effort. You can see it in our game that the hustle is there and we matched the opponent’s energy.”
“We’re so blessed that we beat Alaska twice. It doesn’t happen often that you upset a team which has a twice-to-beat (advantage). We’re just thankful,” said Thompson.
The work doesn’t stop there, though, as the Gin Kings now prepare for the challenge that is the streaking Star in the best-of-7 semifinals series to begin on Thursday.
Expect the young guys to come out just as aggressive, if not more, to help Ginebra claim back-to-back titles.
“We won’t do anything drastic. We’ll do our best and play our game,” said Ferrer.