MORE than the Xs and Os, it’s the “B” as in belief that Star is banking on in its bid to topple San Miguel Beer in their PBA Commissioner’s Cup semifinal showdown starting on Saturday at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum.
The Hotshots have yet to beat the Beermen this season, surrendering a 96-88 decision in the Philippine Cup then a 103-97 decision in their elimination-round meeting this conference last April 16.
But Hotshots coach Chito Victolero is instilling in his wards that third time could be the charm against their sister squad in their best-of-five series starting with Game One that tips off at 5 p.m.
“We try to convince the players, and ako, na-convince ko ang sarili ko na we can compete against San Miguel,” Victolero said in a chat with SPIN.ph after practice. “We can compete against anybody dito sa liga as long as naniniwala kami dun sa system, naniniwala kami sa isa’t-isa.”
“I think medyo may chance naman kami, although alam namin na mabigat dahil they have the experience, they have the material,” he added of the mighty Beermen. “But first thing’s first: kailangan maniwala muna kami.”
The Hotshots showed the capability to beat the Beermen late in their eliminations matchup when they came back from as many as 19 points down and nudged to within four points on a Paul Lee three-pointer, before the Beermen held on.
PJ Simon has urged his teammates to heed their coach’s call.
“Sila coach naman are doing a good job, and talagang kaming lahat, naniniwala na kaya namin, beatable sila,” the Hotshots mainstay said. “Maganda naman yung matchup namin sa kanila. Pero yung tatalunin, hindi pa natin makikita yun. Tingnan natin sa laro.”
“But ang importante is kami lahat motivated na kaya namin sila i-match up,” he added.
So aside from the psychological aspect, the Hotshots also have to worry about the technical side on how they can limit June Mar Fajardo and import Charles Rhodes down low as well as cover their shooters and playmakers in Alex Cabagnot, Chris Ross, Marcio Lassiter, and Arwind Santos.
“Right now, meron kaming at least two defensive schemes for their offense,” Victolero bared. “We’ll try kung ano yung pwede namin i-adjust dun sa opensa ng San Miguel, kasi medyo mabigat talaga, almost everybody yung involved dun sa offense nila.”
Victolero believes the Hotshots have the same depth as the Beermen as he’s at the helm of a similar powerhouse crew led by Lee, Mark Barroca, Allein Maliksi, Jio Jalalon, and Ian Sangalang, and anchored by Best Import race pacesetter Ricardo Ratliffe.
“Sa talent for talent, halos magkaparehas lang, but ang advantage nila is they have the chemistry,” Victolero said. “I think three or four years na sila magkakasama, so sobrang magkakakilala na sila.”
“Kami naman, ang advantage namin, I think siguro we’re more, yung system namin, depensa muna bago lahat,” he added of the Hotshots, whose defense remains topnotch even without injured anchor Marc Pingris. “We’ll try to install yung defensive system namin doon sa chemistry ng San Miguel.”
“Positive naman kami,” he continued. “I think we have a proper mindset. Na-explain ko na sa players yung dapat naming gawin. I think maa-adopt naman nila yun.”
One thing going for the Hotshots is their youth which Victolero hopes will work in their favor against the veteran-laden Beermen the longer the series goes.
“The longer the series goes, the better for us,” Victolero said.