ROOKIE Cliff Hodge gave the lift Meralco needed in a strong third-quarter performance, catapulting the Bolts to a confidence-building 93-86 victory over a disoriented Alaska squad on Wednesday night in the PBA Philippine Cup at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Hodge, the fourth pick overall in the last rookie draft, tallied a game-high 20 points - 12 of which came in a dazzling third-quarter performance that gave the Bolts the momentum while breaking the will of the Aces.
“It’s unusual to have a rookie dictate our effort level of play. We’re just fortunate we were able to draft Hodge because obviously, he’s brought a lot of excitement (to the team),” said coach Ryan Gregorio after the Bolts' first victory after a 110-112 overtime loss to Talk ‘N Text last week.
The 6-4 Hodge, whom Meralco media liaison officer Virgil Villavicencio calls the team’s "energizer bunny," scored from different angles and in a variety of ways - drives, fastbreak layups, short jumpers, and putbacks.
“I thought earlier, he’s (Hodge) just a dirty worker. But in two games, he’s averaging close to 20. So it’s really a good relief we drafted him,” added the Bolts mentor.
Hodge earned his double-double game after also finishing with 11 rebounds, while adding two blocks.
So effective was Hodge on the court that a frustrated Alaska forward Gabby Espinas swung his elbow midway in the fourth period at the Fil-Am rookie, hitting him in the mouth. Espinas was slapped with an offensive foul and a technical foul as well for second motion.
“I saw the incident, but I have to give credit to the referees because they were able to make the necessary calls to avoid making things worse. Again, the technical foul called, that was good enough for us,” said Gregorio.
Alaska actually shot better from the field, making 35 of its 70 attempts for a 50 percent clip. But the Aces, who dropped to 0-2, simply lacked the energy to compete against a Meralco squad that didn’t really have a legitimate center after the departure of Asi Taulava during the offseason.
Without the 6’8” Taulava inside the shaded lane, Gregorio has tasked his three forwards to alternate in playing the center position – JR Reyes, Reynel Hugnatan and rookie Fil-Am Kelly Nabong.
Nabong, specifically, didn’t disappoint Gregorio as he finished with six points, grabbed 11 rebounds and had one block in 19 quality minutes.
On the other hand, the veteran Hugnatan chipped in eight points and eight rebounds.
“I told my players, the quickest possible time we forget about Asi, the better … we just have to move on. We know that Asi made the decision and we respect that because he’s doing it for the future and interest of his family,” said Gregorio.
Meralco (93) - Hodge 20, Cardona 16, Buenafe 13, Mercado 10, Salvacion 10, Hugnatan 8, Nabong 6, Reyes 4, Borboran 2, Sharma 2, Artadi 2, Belencion 0
Alaska (86) – Baguio 19, Thoss 17, Espinas 15, Casio 12, Hontiveros 9, Baracael 4, Bugia 4, Dela Cruz 4, Reyes 2, Jazul 0, Belasco 0, Eman 0, Cablay 0
Quarter scores: 24-24, 50-44, 76-64, 93-86