LUCENA – Alaska reasserted its mastery of shorthanded San Miguel Beer especially down the stretch as it hacked out an 82-75 victory on Friday night to move on the verge of the Philippine Cup crown before an appreciative crowd at the Quezon Convention Center.
The Aces squandered an early lead and saw themselves fall into a hole, but tightened their defensive screws that resulted in their transition offense to frustrate the Beermen in Game Three.
It was the Aces’ fourth straight victory over the Beermen, including the elimination round.
Vic Manuel scored 11 of his 17 points in the payoff period, while RJ Jazul hit back-to-back baskets to spark a 7-0 finishing kick that gave Alaska a 3-0 lead – a deficit no team has overcome in a best-of-seven series in the 41 years of Asia’s first pro league.
The Aces can put the wraps on their first league championship in three years when the series goes back to Manila for Game Four on Sunday at the Philsports Arena in Pasig.
“I’m hoping we can finish it in Ultra,” Aces coach Alex Compton said. “Taga-Pasig naman ako eh, para malapit lang sa bahay.”
“But we talked about how they will not hand us anything,” he was quick to add.
The Beermen, still without injured star June Mar Fajardo, showed the sense of urgency after going down in the first two games of the series as they took the lead at 75-74 with 1:25 left but never scored again, missing their last four shots - two on three-point tries by Arwind Santos and Ronald Tubid.
That was after the defending champions built a double-digit halftime lead.
“I was not happy at halftime,” admitted Compton, whose team went down by 10 points after the first two quarters. “I thought they had a great game plan and they outworked us as well.”
“(But) the pleasure I have in coaching these guys, it’s hard to really express, and you saw how they really kept going,” he added. “We finally got it right in the second half. We stopped hanging our heads in and kept playing.”
Jay-R Reyes stepped up in the absence of Fajardo this time, emerging as the only SMB player who scored in twin digits, but the sub slotman committed a flagrant foul 2 when he elbowed Manuel in the fourth quarter, sparking the Alaska comeback.
Alaska 82 - Manuel 17, Abueva 13, Thoss 12, Baguio 11, Banchero 7, Baclao 6, Jazul 6, Menk 5, Casio 4, Dela Rosa 1, Dela Cruz 0, Exciminiano 0, Hontiveros 0.
San Miguel 75 - Reyes 13, Tubid 10, Arana 9, Cabagnot 9, Santos 9, Espinas 8, Lassiter 8, Lutz 4, Ross 3, De Ocampo 2, Heruela 0.
Quarterscores: 20-17, 31-41, 58-55, 82-75