REACHING the semifinals of the PBA Philippine Cup is just a part of coach Leo Austria’s initial bucket list.
Advancing to the Finals, and eventually ending the franchise’s three-year title drought, is definitely the ultimate goal.
And it’s the reason why the soft-spoken coach has kept on reminding the Beermen not to be just contented with what they have achieved so far in the season-opening conference.
“Ang first goal is to reach the semis and we were able to achieve that because now, we were able to surpass what we achieved from the previous conference at nag-no. 1 pa kami after the eliminations,” Austria told Spin.ph.
But now comes the ultimate test as the Beermen will have no less than Talk `N Text for their opponents in the best-of-seven semis series that kicks off on Friday at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Austria was an interesting spectator Tuesday night when the Tropang Texters eliminated crowd favorite Barangay Ginebra Kings, 83-67, in the knockout quarterfinal duel at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
The Tropang Texters ousted the Kings through the heroics of Ranidel de Ocampo, Jayson Castro, Ryan Reyes, and rookies Matt Ganuelas and Kevin Alas.
San Miguel’s biggest weapon remains to be reigning league MVP June Mar Fajardo, who currently leads the Best Player of the Conference race at the end of the eliminations.
The 6-foot-10 Fajardo is averaging MVP-like numbers of 18.5 points, 12.7 rebounds, and 2.3 blocks this season, numbers that proves he’s one of the league’s unstoppable forces inside.
Austria however, is not only banking on Fajardo alone as he also hopes newly-reacquired veteran playmaker Alex Cabagnot can bring in additional outside shooting for the Beermen that will extend the Talk `N Text defense from the perimeter.
Cabagnot swapped teams with Sol Mercado last week just before the trade deadline in the Beermen’s bid to strengthen their backcourt in time for the playoffs.
Cabagnot is coming off career-best numbers of 15.3 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 5.1 assists during his 10-game stint with Globalport this conference.
“The reason we got him (Cabagnot) is because we want to him to shoot from the perimeter. And I believe he’s one of the best point guards today. And since we have June Mar in the shaded area and in order for us to open up (inside), we need to surround him (Fajardo) with shooters,” Austria added.
The 56-year-old San Miguel coach explained the Beermen’s 107-101 elimination round loss to the Texters unmasked the team’s weakness in some ways as he pointed out Talk ‘N Text found a way to double every time Fajardo has the basketball.
“With Sol (Mercado) and (Chris) Ross, most of the time na sila ang nasa loob, may opportunity ang kalaban namin to strengthen their defense on June Mar,” explained Austria.
“But if you have Alex, they (Texters) will not gamble because if he’s open, there’s no hesitation for him to take the shot (from the perimeter if Fajardo gets doubled-team).”
Mercado and Ross combined for just eight three point shots made this season, compared to Cabagnot’s 25 three-point conversions.