Alaska Milk weathered a late fourth-quarter charge by Meralco to pull off a momentum-grabbing 90-84 victory and a 1-0 lead in their PBA Philippine Cup best-of-three quarterfinal at the Smart Araneta Coliseum on Wednesday night.
Cyrus Baguio led the Aces’ strong second-half charge to finish with 26 points, eight rebounds, and four steals, before Tony Dela Cruz, Sonny Thoss, and Gabby Espinas took over in the endgame that allowed Alaska to draw first blood in the brief best-of-three series.
“I told them at the half, Meralco puts a lot of pressure on their man to man. They (Bolts) tried to dictate the tempo that way. It’s good we were patient and played to our strength,” said Alaska coach Luigi Trillo.
He also credited Baguio for being a steady force for the team, hitting the big baskets and creating opportunities for his teammates through his defense.
“Cyrus was also awesome tonight. We have seven players. After being in ninth place, the new guys are doing it for us. But Cyrus was pretty steady for us. He’s very mature in what he’s doing. He’s doing the right thing and never complains. He’s character through and through,” added Trillo.
The Aces erected their biggest lead at 69-47 on a driving layup by JVee Casio late in the third period. But the Bolts manage to chip the 22-point Alaska lead slowly in the fourth period behind Solomon Mercado and Mark Cardona’s outside sniping.
Dela Cruz however, doused cold water on Meralco’s late-game charge with several clutch medium-range jumpers.
Baguio's superb performance made up for the sub-par game of heralded rookie Calvin Abueva, who fouled out at the 9:46 mark of the final period while trying to go for a rebound against Meralco’s rookie Fil-Am Clifford Hodge.
The former NCAA MVP played a foul-plagued 15 minutes to finish with just six points, four rebounds and one assist.
“I thought Calvin’s three fouls were silly. They were intentionally bumping Calvin, but it seems like he’s getting called for the double fouls. I think that should be a let go,” said Trillo.
“I spoke to Calvin before the game and I told him they will really do that because this is the playoffs,” he added.
With Abueva plagued by fouls, Espinas, Dela Cruz and Thoss more than made up for his scoring absence as they finished with 19, 13 and 10, respectively.
Alaska 90 - Baguio 26, Espinas 19, Dela Cruz 13, Thoss 10, Baracael 9, Abueva 6, Casio 5, Jazul 1, Hontiveros 1, Eman 0, Belasco 0
Meralco 84 - Mercado 22, Cardona 14, Reyes 13, Ross 9, Hodge 8, Buenafe 7, Hugnatan 5, Nabong 2, Bulawan 2, Sharma 2, Borboran 0, Salvacion 0
Quarterscores: 18-20, 44-33, 74-58, 90-84