WITH his offense still shaky at best, Japeth Aguilar knew he had to make up for it in some other way.
The Barangay Ginebra big man's offensive struggles continued, but at least he has slowly regained his defensive prowess that proved a major difference in the Kings’ 100-92 victory over KIA Motors on Friday in the PBA Commissioner’s Cup.
Coming in averaging a paltry 1.3 points on 14.3 percent shooting, .7 rebounds, .7 steal, and .3 block in 12 minutes in his first three games, Aguilar showed flashes of his old self as he tallied four points (1-of-6 shooting), six rebounds, one block, one steal in 13 minutes.
More importantly, the 6-foot-9 beanpole put up a solid defensive job on the Carnival’s towering import PJ Ramos.
The 7-foot-3 Puerto Rican reinforcement may have had wreaked havoc with 37 points and 22 boards, but Aguilar, after a few head-scratching plays on offense, stopped Ramos when it mattered most for the Kings.
“The more na nangigigil ako, ni-remind ako ng coaching staff na take my time and get it on defense first, then offense will come,” said the Gilas mainstay.
[See Dunigan left in 'Shaq' after getting it in the chin from Ramos]
While Greg Slaughter and the other Kings’ big men defended Ramos from behind, Aguilar fronted the Carnival import or provided help defense, proving effective as it forced the behemoth to make mistakes or miss.
That was enough as far as Kings coach Ato Agustin is concerned.
“Bigay natin ang credit kay Japeth kasi limited minutes siya, pero go hard pa rin siya sa depensa,” Agustin said.
Still, the 28-year-old Aguilar knows he is far from his best and admitted being frustrated with his woeful production in the ongoing import-spiced conference.
“May konting frustration ako, pero ino-overcome ko,” said Aguilar, whose numbers are a far cry from his production in the Philippine Cup where he emerged second in the league in blocks with 1.9 rejections and fifth in the league in rebounds with 9.7 boards.
A pulled hamstring injury sustained before the start of the conference has been one of the main reasons that slowed him down, he added.
“Parang nawala ako sa rhythm. Ngayon, I’m doing strengthening, so medyo nakakabalik na ako.”
[See Heroic Tenorio stand turns Dunigan into a fan]
But even without an injury, Aguilar seems to regress in import-loaded conferences, like in the last midseason tournament when he was just a shadow of himself after becoming a Best Player of the Conference candidate in the Philippine Cup.
Aguilar, however, refused to make the presence of imports an excuse for his lack of production.
Asked if anything is bothering him mentally, Aguilar answered in the negative.
“Wala naman. It’s not like hindi ako fully adjusted sa offense ni coach Ato, kailangan ko lang makuha yung rhythm ko," said the former Ateneo player.
“Dadahan-dahanin ko lang kasi iba na yung ano (role) sa akin ni coach eh,” the first overall pick in the 2009 rookie draft added. “Pero pag pinasok ako, hundred percent ibibigay ko.
“Sanay magtuloy-tuloy na.”