MERALCO came out with a strong second-half assault behind veterans Reynel Hugnatan, Sol Mercado and Ryan Gregorio as it added to the woes of a slumping Petron Blaze with a 95-81 victory on Sunday night in the PBA Philippine Cup at the MOA Arena.
Hugnatan punished a terrible undersized Petron frontline with numerous baskets in the paint, while Mercado and Cardona provided the shots from the outside that enabled the Bolts to bounce back from a woeful outing the last time out against Rain or Shine.
“After a deflating defeat against Rain or Shine, we wanted to test our bounce-back genes against Petron. And we did,” said Meralco coach Ryan Gregorio, whose team suffered a humiliating 81-106 beating at the hands of the Elasto Painters last weekend.
"I think against Rain or Shine, it was complacency that was our enemy. We made sure we played lock-down defense and our offense was hitting on all cylinders tonight."
The victory allowed the Bolts to move up to fourth place behind league-leader Talk ‘N Text, Rain or Shine and San Mig Coffee, which carry identical 6-2 records.
Petron, already without injured big men June Mar Fajardo, Danny Ildefonso, and Dorian Pena, suffered another setback when Jay Washington left the game for good with three minutes left in the third period after receiving an accidental blow to the left leg.
Like in its previous game against Talk ‘N Text, Petron was within striking distance during the first two quarters of the game as it trailed Meralco by just 43-47 during intermission. But come the second half, the Boosters couldn’t keep pace with the torrid shooting of the Bolts.
Mercado instigated the huge third quarter performance for the Bolts with three successive three-point shots, allowing the team to tear the game apart with a 69-49 bubble.
Petron staged a minor rally midway in the final period by cutting Meralco’s lead to 10, but Cardona scored five straight points, while Fil-Am rookie Cliff Hodge punctuated the 7-0 burst with a rim-rattling two-handed slam dunk that all but sealed the game's outcome.
“Of course, Petron’s rally is always a cause for concern because we were celebrating early and they slowly inched into the game,” said Gregorio.
“In this league you can’t put your guard down. It’s hard to celebrate if there are minutes or seconds to be played. But it’s a good thing Cliff Hodge punctuated it with a good defensive effort and a thunderous dunk on the other end.”
Mercado and Hugnatan led the Bolts with 22 points each while Cardona was just one rebound shy of a triple-double after finishing with 16 points, nine rebounds, and 10 assists in 43 minutes of action.
Alex Cabagnot topscored with 19 points for Petron, which absorbed its third straight loss and dropped to 3-6.
Meralco 95 - Mercado 22, Hugnatan 22, Cardona 16, Hodge 15, Ross 9, Buenafe 6, Salvacion 3, Reyes 2, Belencion 0, Bulawan 0, Borboran 0
Petron 81 - Cabagnot 19, Lutz 13, Santos 10, Duncil 9, Miranda 8, Yeo 7, Faundo 6, Washington 5, Mallari 2, Sison 2, Lassiter 0
Quarterscores: 25-20, 45-38, 69-51, 95-81