Meralco embracing role as underdog against Alaska as semifinal series starts
Arinze Onuaku and the Bolts are seeded higher but Rob Dozier and the Aces are a consistent playoff squad. Jerome Ascano

MERALCO is embracing its role as underdog against Alaska as they square off in the PBA Commissioner’s Cup semifinals starting on Monday at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum.

The Bolts claimed the second seed after the elimination round, but are just in their fourth semifinal appearance in their five years in the league, one less than the Aces’ Final Four stints in less than two years under coach Alex Compton.

“We are aware that most people will not give us much of a chance against a very experienced Alaska team, but that’s the beauty of competition,” Bolts coach Norman Black said. “We will show up to fight and compete.”

Game One of the best-of-five series tips off at 7 p.m.

Behind dominant import Arinze Onuaku, the Bolts seek to sustain their resurgence after they finished dead last in the Philippine Cup.

“Energy and execution will be key for us,” said Black, who is also banking on Jimmy Alapag, Chris Newsome, and Baser Amer to run the offense. “We will have to break their pressure defense, limit turnovers, and find ways to free up Arinze.”

“Defensively, it will be important that we try to disrupt their motion offense as much as possible because they are a team that relies on player and ball movement,” he added.

After all, the Aces lean on a balanced attack led by Calvin Abueva and import Rob Dozier.

Still, Compton, who has steered the Aces to the semifinals in five of his six conferences at the helm, holds the Bolts in high regard.

“I have a tremendous amount of respect for Meralco,” Compton said. “After a tough all-Filipino (conference), they have bounced back in a way that winners do. And they earned the second seed through excellent basketball and tremendous effort.”

“I believe it will be a very difficult series for us,” he added. “Our best effort is required to win this series.”

Follow the writer on Twitter: @KarloSacamos