UNDERMANNED Meralco bounced back from a tough opening day loss with a better defensive effort as the Bolts whipped defending champion Alaska, 85-76, to chalk up their first win in the PBA Commissioner’s Cup on Wednesday night at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Import Brian Butch carried the scoring load for the Bolts with 27 points, spiked by six three-point shots.
The 6-foot-10 Butch, who hails from Appleton, Wisconsin, survived a rugged encounter against a physical Alaska frontcourt, using his size to grab 17 rebounds, while shooting with reckless abandon from beyond the arc.
“I just told him (Butch) to keep his composure, make sure his emotions are always intact and just play basketball, just like the way I coach my other players,” Meralco coach Ryan Gregorio told sports scribes after the game.
Gregorio paid tribute also to his local players led by Reynel Hugnatan, Gary David, and Fil-Am forward Clifford Hodge, who stepped up in the absence of forward Jared Dillinger (bacterial infection) and playmaker Mike Cortez (torn meniscus on his right knee).
“Despite our obvious lack of arsenal because of injured players, we were able to do the job because of defense,” said the 41-year-old Meralco mentor.
“This (game) is really a welcome development after losing that game badly against San Miguel. We were able to find ways against Alaska, the defending champion,” he added.
The Bolts were soundly beaten by the Beermen during their conference debut, 76-94, with Butch and David as the only bright spots for the team.
The Aces, who won their first game last week at the expense of Globalport, 93-77, dropped to 1-2 after another lackluster outing.
JV Casio led Alaska with 19 points, going four-of-nine from the three-point zone, while reigning Best Import Robert Dozier added 17 markers, 14 rebounds, five assists, and two blocks.
Alaska pretty much shot itself on the foot after rewarding Meralco with 42 free throws, which the Bolts used to convert 28 points.
The Aces, on the other hand, finished the match shooting just 18-of-28 from the foul line.
Newly acquired forward Vic Manuel debuted for Alaska with six points and five rebounds, just two days after being traded by the Air21 Express in exchange for Aldrech Ramos.
MERALCO (85) -- Butch 27, Hugnatan 14, David 12, Hodge 12, Caram 7, Mandani 5, Ildefonso 4, Guevarra 2, Wilson 2, Al-Hussaini 0.
ALASKA (76) -- Casio 19, Dozier 17, Baguio 12, Thoss 10, Manuel 6, Jazul 4, Espinas 3, Reyes 2, Abueva 2, Dela Cruz 1, Hontiveros 0.
Quarterscores: 20-12; 37-33; 61-54; 85-76.