ALJON Mariano made sure his return from injury was a memorable one as he proved to be a major factor in Ginebra’s 108-97 win over Alaska in sudden death in the PBA Philippine Cup quarterfinals on Tuesday night.
Sidelined the last four games due to an ankle injury, the junior forward stepped up and filled the void left by injured Joe Devance, scoring a career-high 20 points to go with eight boards and one steal in 23 minutes off the bench.
“Coming to the game, naging ready lang talaga ako kasi alam ko na bubunutin niya ako kasi wala si Joe eh,” Mariano said. “Sabi ko, be fearless lang, be fearless, be aggressive lang. Paulit-ulit ko sinasabi, coming into the game, maging aggressive ka lang at lumabas naman sa game ko.”
Mariano said he merely embraced the 'next man up' challenge of Ginebra coach Tim Cone in the wake of Devance's untimely injury.
“Sabi ni Coach Tim, next man up kung sino gusto mag step-up para sa team namin, eh lahat naman, lahat nag-step up talaga,” he said.
Mariano already surpassed his career high as early as the first half where he scored 13 markers, but admitted he was gasping for breath early on.
“Siguro kanina lang, medyo kinapos lang ako ng hangin nung umpisa, syempre antagal ko nawala,” he admitted. “Nage-extra work na lang ako everyday para makuha ko yung conditioning ko ng maayos.”
Cone was hardly surprised by Mariano’s performance.
“He’s been playing that well since last conference, but he has a tendency to back up Joe and now Kevin’s (Ferrer) there, and so he doesn’t get the playing time he oftentimes deserves,” he said.
“But when he gets it, he really takes advantage of it,” the champion coach added.