BIG CHILL and NLEX have so far lived up to expectations after major changes in the offseason, but the true test comes on Thursday when last conference’s finalists clash in the PBA D-League Aspirants Cup at the Ynares Sports Arena in Pasig.
Both teams are unbeaten in the tournament, with defending champion NLEX proving so far that the recent exodus of its top players to the pros has made little effect on its dominance in the developmental league.
Big Chill, the last team to beat NLEX, made roster changes in the offseason specifically to match the Road Warriors and will finally get to find out if they made the right moves.
The Superchargers take on the Road Warriors at 4 p.m. in what could be a preview of the finals.
Big Chill coach Robert Sison admitted that the current core of the team was formed in hopes of challenging NLEX, the only team to win a championship in the league's three conferences so far.
“When I built this team, I had NLEX in mind as meter stick. So this game is big for us,” Sison said.
Far Eastern University star Terrence Romeo was one of the key additions to Big Chill. So far, it has been paying dividends with Romeo averaging 21 points per game for the Superchargers, who rolled to their fourth win with a 68-59 win over Boracay Rum on Monday.
Also acquired by the Superchargers were Ateneo’s Ryan Buenafe, Adamson star forward Alex Nuyles, and FEU big man Arvie Bringas.
NLEX are now without Calvin Abueva, Cliff Hodge and Chris Ellis but the squad now being led by Ian Sangalang has won five games including a 92-73 victory over Fruitas on Monday to keep their 22-game winning streak going.
Ironically, the last time NLEX lost was against Big Chill in Game One of the 2011-12 Aspirants Cup semifinal round in January. However, Big Chill was swept by NLEX last conference for the Road Warriors’ third straight crown.
In order to bounce back from that finals setback, Sison said Big Chill will have to show that they want the game more.
“We have to be mentally sharp offensively and tough defensively. That’s the only way we could beat NLEX. We have to show them that we want the game more than them,” Sison said.
Absent, however, for the pivotal match are Ateneo players Greg Slaughter and Nico Salva of NLEX, and Ryan Buenafe of Big Chill.
The Blue Eagles will see action in Game Two of the Philippine Collegiate Champions League finals against University of Santo Tomas, which coincides with the NLEX-Big Chill encounter.
Slaughter has finally been given the go-signal to play for the Road Warriors after Immigration commissioner Ricardo David certified that Slaughter has reacquired his Filipino citizenship.
In the other game, Fruitas looks to bounce back from its blowout loss to NLEX when it battles Erase XFoliant at 2 p.m.
The Shakers are languishing in the bottom half of the team standings with a 1-3 win-loss card. On the other hand, Erase XFoliant is right in the middle of the pack with an even 2-2 slate.
“[Big Chill] is a strong team like ours. Hopefully, we can keep our momentum going,” said Fernandez.