Asi Taulava expects fit-again Rico Villanueva to be key piece for NLEX this season
With Rico Villanueva playing quality minutes as a back-up, Asi Taulava was fresher in the endgame where he scored 12 points to lead NLEX past GlobalPort. Jerome Ascano

ASI Taulava is happy to play reduced minutes in NLEX's 101-96 win over GlobalPort in their PBA Philippine Cup debut on Tuesday, thanks to new teammate Rico Villanueva.

The 41-year-old man-mountain, who played an average of 36 minutes a game with Air21 last season, saw action in 29 minutes against GlobalPort with the fit-again Villanueva giving him a breather at center.

As a result, the evergreen slotman looked fresh late in the game when he scored 12 of his 23 points in the final quarter to lead a strong fightback by the Road Warriors.

“It’s (reduced playing time) up to the coach. If he wants me out there longer, fine,” said Taulava, who also added eight rebounds, five assists, and two blocks.

[See One for the road for NLEX as Taulava-led fightback denies GlobalPort]

Back in harness after recovering from a knee injury last season, Villanueva, Taulava said, should be a major piece for the Road Warriors this season, especially since he has done his work in the offseason.

“If Rico’s playing well, then give Rico a chance to continue playing. Rico has been injured for a while but with coach (Adonis Tierra) giving him a chance, he comes in and stabilizes the game for us,” he said.

“That’s the advantage of having two big guys.”

Taulava said NLEX’s veteran roster which it inherited from Air21 gave the team the edge over GlobalPort, which is relying on a younger core of players led by Terrence Romeo and rookie Stanley Pringle.

“We just believed in one another, especially this group because this was the old Air21 group from last conference, so coach knew that we can execute, especially against GlobalPort,” Taulava said.

[See Gun-shy? Nope, I'm just trying to take smart shots, says Pringle]

Follow the writer on Twitter: @richava