ALASKA validated its status as favorite over Meralco as it hacked out a 97-94 win to take Game One of their PBA Commissioner’s Cup semifinal series on Monday night at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum.
The Aces overcame a nine-point fourth-quarter deficit as they proved steadier in the clutch to frustrate the second-seeded Bolts in the opener of the best-of-five series.
RJ Jazul led the Aces’ usual balanced attack with 18 points, including three on a three-point play that gave his team the lead for good halfway through the fourth, while Calvin Abueva delivered anew with 15 points and six boards.
“I thought this was going to be a tough series,” Aces coach Alex Compton said. “With the skillset and heart that coach Norman has, it’s like that team’s taken on that character of hard-nosed, tough, and working.”
“I’m just proud of my guys that we weathered it,” he added.
Game Two is on Wednesday also at the Big Dome.
While it hardly showed in the Bolts’ shooting a season-high 56 percent (39-of-70) from the field, the Aces’ defense was evident on the 22 turnovers they forced their opponents.
One of those turnovers was on Hodge, who failed to catch a pass from Jimmy Alapag with 5.1 seconds left in a play off a timeout that could’ve allowed them to tie the game.
The Bolts had another chance to knot the count after Rob Dozier missed both his free throws on the other end, but Ronjay Buenafe also missed his three-pointer in the Bolts’ final possession.
The Aces trailed by nine points early in the fourth quarter, before tightening their defensive screws to turn the game around, with Jazul scoring a left-handed layup, drawing a foul, and hitting the bonus charity giving them the lead for good with four minutes and 46 seconds left.
Both imports were hardly factors on offense as Dozier finished with seven points and eight boards, while Arinze Onuaku registered 11 points, although he did haul down 18 rebounds.
Reynel Hugnatan continued his resurgence with 21 points, six boards, and four assists in 31 minutes to lead the Bolts in a losing effort.
ALASKA 97 – Jazul 18, Abueva 15, Baguio 13, Banchero 10, Exciminiano 9, Dozier 7, Menk 7, Baclao 6, Hontiveros 6, Thoss 4, Dela Cruz 2, Dela Rosa 0
MERALCO 94 – Hugnatan 21, Hodge 14, Dillinger 12, Caram 11, Onuaku 11, Faundo 8, Newsome 7, Bono 6, Alapag 2, Amer 2, Buenafe Ry 0, Buenafe Ro 0
Quarterscores: 26-23, 43-48, 71-79, 97-94