AN Alaska side that was hardly in top form still did enough to hold off Meralco, 88-86, and move closer to an outright semifinal berth in the Smart Bro-PBA Philippine Cup at the Mall of Asia Arena.
The quarterfinals-assured Aces let the cellar-dwelling Bolts keep in step with them and even take the lead briefly, before finally delivering the telling blows down the stretch to pull off the hard-earned win - their fourth straight and seventh in eight games that tied them with San Miguel Beer.
The Aces also added to the misery of the Bolts, who suffered their eighth loss in nine games.
“I guess in our league you’ll take any win you get,” Aces coach Alex Compton said. “I really don’t think Meralco’s record is indicative of their talent and coach.”
“But that’s not going to get it done for us,” he was quick to add. “We aspire for excellence…and I think we got to be better than we showed tonight.”
Still, the Aces flashed their usual depth as seven players scored at least nine points, with RJ Jazul shining brightest with nine of his 11 points in the payoff period, including the go-ahead triple.
In the calm before the storm ahead of a crucial stretch that will see them face Rain or Shine and SMB, the Aces fell into an early hole, but turned things around as they led by double digits early in the fourth quarter
But Cliff Hodge led a Bolts’ rally, firing 16 of his team-high 25 points in the payoff period, including a three-pointer that knotted the count at 81 after the team trailed, 73-63.
That, however, set the stage for Jazul heroics as the veteran retaliated with a right-corner triple off Cyrus Baguio that put the Aces up for good and turned the match into a free-throw shooting battle.
Alaska 88 - Banchero 13, Manuel 13, Casio 12, Hontiveros 11, Jazul 11, Baguio 9, Abueva 4, Menk 4, Baclao 1, Dela Cruz 0, Exciminiano 0.
Meralco 86 - Hodge 25, Dillinger 15, Al-Hussaini 10, Buenafe 9, Alapag 8, David 4, Hugnatan 4, Nabong 4, Newsome 4, Ferriols 2, Amer 1, Faundo 0.
Quarterscores: 21-24, 42-37, 54-55, 88-86