SAN Miguel Beer steps up its bid for a first PBA Philippine Cup title in 13 years when it faces Alaska in Game One of the best-of-seven championship series on Wednesday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
The Beermen reached the all-Filipino conference title series after sweeping the Talk ’N Text Tropang Texters, 4-0, in their semifinal showdown on the way to a 13-2 record overall.
On the other hand, the Aces went through the wringer before outlasting the Rain or Shine Elasto Painters, 4-2, in their own semifinal series.
Now mentored by comebacking PBA coach Leo Austria, the Beermen will be looking for their first all-Filipino title since the 2001 season when they were still mentored by Jong Uichico, who is now handling Talk ’N Text.
Carrying San Miguel’s hopes for a Philippine Cup this season is reigning league MVP June Mar Fajardo, who, in only his third PBA season, has developed into a dominant inside force.
“June Mar is one of the most dominant players in the league since he came in. Now it’s our job to play games, and we have to start figuring a way to stop him,” Alaska coach Alex Compton said, heading into the 7 p.m. match.
The 6-foot-10 San Miguel center is averaging a league-best 19.2 points, 12.4 rebounds, 2.0 blocks and 1.9 assists this conference.
But Compton said outside Fajardo, they still have to find ways to contain San Miguel’s array of perimeter gunners like Arwind Santos, who averaged 15.6 points and 7.8 rebounds, along with veteran playmaker Alex Cabagnot (14.7 ppg, 5.0 rpg., 3.2 apg.), Marcio Lassiter (10.9 ppg) and Chris Lutz (10.7 ppg.).
Meantime, despite being the oddsmaker’s pick to win the Finals series, Austria believes they will be going up against an Alaska side that is living up to its potential under the leadership of Compton.
“I think they (Aces) are better than us. Malaki naging improvement nila,” said Austria, who will be facing Compton, his former assistant coach back in Welcoat (now Rain or Shine) from 2006-2007.
The 56-year-old San Miguel coach explained that Compton’s emphasis on discipline and defense has rubbed off on the Aces, who also have the size and a bevy of experienced guards to counter the Beermen.
“Alam mo naman si coach Alex, nung naglalaro pa siya MBA (Metropolitan Basketball Association) at PBL (Philippine Basketball League), nandun din ako, at alam ko yung kanyang passion at kanyang discipline,” Austria added.