ALASKA'S shaky start to Jeff Cariaso's time in charge seemed a distant memory now.
After beginning the conference with five straight losses, the Aces won five of their last six games in the PBA Governors' Cup including a string of four to reach the quarterfinals as the seventh seed facing second seed Meralco.
“I want to give all the credit to the boys for going out there and just everyone, everyday in practice, challenging themselves, challenging each other, practicing at a high level, and showcasing it in the game,” saidCariaso.
Making it to the quarterfinals was almost far fetched for the Aces in their first few games after Cariaso came in as a replacement for longtime Alaska coach Alex Compton.
Before the losses piled up, Alaska made a lot of movements that brought in Abu Tratter from Blackwater and Maverick Ahanmisi from Rain or Shine. The Aces then made a deal to trade away Chris Banchero to Magnolia for Rodney Brondial and Robbie Herndon.
More than anything else, Cariaso credited an improved defense and hustle plays for the resurgence.
The Aces are limiting opponents to 97.8 points per game, fifth in the league. Rain or Shine and playoff teams Magnolia, Meralco, and Barangay Ginebra are the only teams giving up less points than Alaska.
“If you look at the numbers, we are defending better. I would say our defensive percentage against teams, total field goal percentages were a lot better. We defended better this last few games,” said Cariaso.
“Another thing we talked about is controlling the rebounds. If you noticed, the first five games, we badly got killed off the rebounds, giving them extra chance points. It was really hurting us. So this is just a small proof that when coaches say that defense really wins championships, we really mean that and it’s down to the last detail.
"For us, just being able to help each other, lessening our breakdowns, lessening our turnovers, not allowing easy points, turnover points, fastbreak points. That’s two things that we talk about a lot. Not giving up easy points and controlling the rebounds,” said Cariaso.
Alaska star Vic Manuel admitted all the changes initially weighed down on the team.
“Start namin, nag-struggle kami at ‘yung team namin. Parang ‘yung mga trades na nangyari, parang mahirap din sa amin ‘yun. Matagal kaming nagsama-sama tapos biglang naghiwa-hiwalay kami. Biglang pasok ‘yung mga bago,” said Manuel.
The good thing though about the trades, Manuel said, is that the new guys were eager to learn the system, allowing them to make a faster transition.
“Siyempre, iga-guide mo sila na kunin ‘yung sistema. ‘Yun siguro naging problema namin sa start ng conference. At least, na-ano namin na nasa ayos na ‘yung team namin,” said Manuel.
The chemistry showed on Wednesday during its all-important match against NLEX which Alaska won, 106-90. Six players scored in double figures, including new boys Tratter and Herndon, who had 12 and 10 respectively. Ahanmisi, meanwhile, also had a solid outing where he had eight points and seven rebounds.
“Masaya kami. Kailangan lang namin mag-jell as a team. Maraming bago sa team, nakapag-adjust naman sa kanila agad. Medyo maganda tinatakbo. Naglalaro kami as one so parang nag-click ‘yung team namin ngayon,” said Manuel.
Despite making it to the quarterfinals, Cariaso said the team is not satisfied although they know the task is daunting as they face twice-to-beat Meralco on Sunday in a do-or-die situation.
“Obviously, we know about the start. One thing we said during that time was it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish. We are happy with how we finished the eliminations,” Cariaso said. “But we are not content yet."