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    COLUMN: Victolero magic has Magnolia looking like a title contender again

    Jul 24, 2022
    Chito Victolero Jackson Corpuz
    PHOTO: Jerome Ascano
    spin zone

    CHICAGO - Unlike many other coaches, especially those from the super rich clubs, Chito Victolero doesn't crave attention and runs away from the headlines like a fugitive of justice.

    But the Magnolia head coach may have unwittingly put himself in the limelight with yet another masterful job with the Hotshots, who are once again poised for a deep playoffs run after back-to-back finals appearances in the last two conferences.

    This ongoing Philippine Cup is arguably his best work.

    Magnolia started the season looking like Terrafirma, losing two in a row before sinking to 1-3.

    But they finished the elimination rounds looking like San Miguel Beer, winning seven straight to finish at 8-3 and punch a ticket to the playoffs,

    In today's quarterfinals match against NLEX, Magnolia went on a 40-point second quarter spree on the way to an easy, breezy 98-89 Game 1 victory.

    ON YOUR MARK (BARROCA), GET SET, GO.

    That guy Mark Barroca is so sneaky. His calling card trumpets his ferocious defense and eagerness to set up his teammates, but when he caught the Road Warriors sleeping, Mark poured in 24 points on 10-of-21 shooting, including 3-of-6 from 3.

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    Barroca waltzed in as a member of the 5,000-points club, and just like that, the Hotshots are a spit away from the semifinals.

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    So how did Magnolia turn gloom into boom?

    "We don't panic. We just keep on working hard. We are a veteran team and I know we can survive adversity," coach Victolero told me from the glory of their assigned dugout at the Araneta Coliseum.

    "We had a lot of injuries at the start of the tournament," he added. "But hindi po namin ginawang excuse. Instead, everyone stepped up."

    I asked coach Chito how Calvin Abueva is doing after inviting the ire of the league when the mercurial and often disgruntled star chanted "Japan, Japan," following an ejection.

    "Calvin is okay. He is more focused now and he helped us a lot, especially with his energy, hustle, and defense."

    Abueva corroborated that a signature do-everything effort that stifled NLEX. Calvin finished with 13 points, eight rebounds, two assists and a block. And, of course, he had five fouls.

    Continue reading below ↓

    With a resurgent June Mar Fajardo flexing his MVP muscles and the 9-2 Beermen playing like an orchestra instead of an aria, San Miguel is the prohibitive title favorite to win it all.

    TNT, armed with the league's two leading scorers in Mikey Williams (21.7) and Roger Pogoy (19), are also in the title mix alongside crowd darling Ginebra San Miguel.

    MAGNOLIA, HOWEVER, WILL GIVE ANY OF THOSE TEAMS A RUN FOR THEIR CHICKEN.

    In their eight wins, the Timplados outscored their opponents 745-635, which meant they put up 93.1 per while limiting the opposition to just 79.3, a wide winning differential of 13.7.

    In their three losses, Magnolia lost only by a combined 19 points and were never blown out. Their worst defeat was against Converge, a shocking 89-82 reversal.

    Their signature defense, work ethic, and opportunistic scoring makes them a tough out.

    The Timplados are far from being favorites considering the galaxy of stars that inhabit San Miguel, Ginebra, and TNT.

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    But it's safe to say that Magnolia is a dark horse. And coach Chito Victolero is a dangerous wild card.

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    PHOTO: Jerome Ascano
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