Rookie Jericho Cruz repays Guiao faith, leads Rain or Shine fightback against Alaska
Rain or Shine rookie Jericho Cruz celebrates his big basket in the endgame. Jerome Ascano

ROOKIE Jericho Cruz played like a veteran in the dying seconds, scoring Rain or Shine’s last four points in a thrilling 98-95 come-from-behind win over Alaska in the PBA Philippine Cup on Friday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.

The former Adamson Falcon drafted ninth overall by Rain or Shine scored on a follow-up off a free-throw miss by Jeff Chan then scored on a fastbreak to complete the team's fightback from a six-point deficit in the final three minutes.

“Special mention to Jericho Cruz. He played like a veteran,” said Rain or Shine coach Yeng Guiao. “He made his free throws, he defended well and he made those baskets. It certainly made us look good drafting him.”

The Elasto Painters' sixth successive win gave the team the inside track on a Top 2 finish, which guarantees an outright place in the semifinals of the season-opening conference.

At 8-2 (win-loss), Rain or Shine can secure a semifinal berth with a win over Ginebra on Sunday.

The six-foot Cruz finished with 16 points on 6-of-7 shooting. He scored 10 in the fourth quarter alone, putting the final touches to a fightback started by Paul Lee and Beau Belga.

Lee led the Elasto Painters with 19 points, eight rebounds and five assists while Belga finished with a double-double of 16 points and 12 rebounds in what is by far his best game for the conference.

Belga made back-to-back baskets off Eric Menk while Lee hit a three-pointer from way out when Rain or Shine came charging back from an 85-91 deficit in the endgame.

Alaska (8-3) finished the single-round eliminations with back-to-back losses, dimming its hopes ofmaking it to the semifinals outright.

Calvin Abueva led the Aces with 18 points and eight rebounds.

The scores:

Rain or Shine 98 - Lee 19, Cruz Jericho 16, Belga 16, Norwood 12, Chan 8, Quinahan 8, Tiu 5, Almazan 5, Uyloan 3, Tang 3, Arana 2, Ibanes 1, Cruz Jervy 0.
Alaska 95 - Abueva 18, Menk 16, Baguio 12, Casio 12, Manuel 11, Thoss 8, Hontiveros 6, Dela Cruz 4, Exciminiano 3, Jazul 3, Banchero 2, Eman 0, Dela Rosa 0, Bugia 0.
Quarterscores: 18-23, 42-45, 67-73, 98-95

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