SAN Miguel might still be the favorite heading its PBA Commissioner's Cup semifinal playoff against Star, but coach Leo Austria knows that the Beermen are in for a dogfight against 'the hottest team’ in the league today.
Austria pointed out the arrival of Ricardo Ratliffe has turned the Hotshots into a juggernaut that ended the elimination round with three straight wins before brushing aside Rain or Shine in the best-of-three quarterfinals in two games.
That’s why Austria expects to face in the semis a Star team far more dangerous than the one the Beermen beat, 103-97, last April back when Tony Mitchell was still the Hotshots' import.
“Sila yung hottest team sa PBA e since yung arrival ni Ratliffe. Hindi pa sila natatalo. It’s a big factor for Star dahil yung confidence nung mga players tumaas at na-inspired sila. Talagang kailangan ma-inspire sila kasi magaling talaga yung Ratliffe e,” said Austria.
“He’s our main concern but I told them na hindi lang siya, the locals are really playing well especially Paul Lee, Aldrech Ramos and the guards in (Mark) Barroca, (Justin) Melton and (Jio) Jalalon,” he added.
So impressive were the Hotshots with Ratliffe in the middle that they beat the Elasto Painters by an average of 25.5 points in their two quarterfinal games.
But as formitable as Star has been in the playoff against Rain or Shine, Austria pointed out the Beermen are a far different team than the Elasto Painters.
“If you’ve watched the series, medyo disappointing dahil na-dominate ng Star especially the first game. But our team is different from Rain or Shine and I’m sure they also will prepare hard for us.”
His squad’s depth and talent across all positions is bound to cause Star problems, particularly down low with the partnership of three-time MVP June Mar Fajardo and Charles Rhodes, said Austria.
“Alam ko naman na pino-problema nila is yung Twin Towers namin with June Mar and Charles. Probably they can stop one of our big man because of Ratliffe, but their problem is another big man in the post,” Austria explained.
“We don’t know yet kung anong gagawin nila. We’re anticipating a lot of things e. Pwedeng dumouble, pwedeng atakihin yung big man. Yun ang ina-anticipate namin.”
Despite their recent success, the Commissioner’s Cup title has proven elusive for the Beermen. The storied PBA franchise has yet to win a championship in this mid-season tournament since the league returned to the three-conference season format.
“We’re not pressuring ourselves to achieve that high. Now we have a chance to get to the finals and win the championship, still it’s not in our mind e. One game at a time kami,” Austria continued.
“Ang Star talagang very hungry yan kasi it’s quite sometime na pumasok sila sa finals and now they have a chance. Let’s see what will happen to our series. It will be an exciting game para sa mga fans.”