SAN Miguel Beer picked up from where it left off in the year just passed as it cruised past Blackwater, 118-93, to clinch the first quarterfinal berth in the PBA Philippine Cup on Friday night at the Mall of Asia Arena.
The two-time defending champions banked on a blistering start and sustained a double-digit lead as a late rally by the Elite hardly slowed the Beermen on their way to a fifth straight win.
June Mar Fajardo showed the way as usual with 28 points, eight boards, and five assists in just 28 minutes as the reigning MVP had the luxury of watching from the bench while SMB maintained a sizeable cushion.
As a result, the second unit, led by Gabby Espinas saw extended action for SMB, which jacked up its win-loss record to 6-1, while dropping the Elite to 4-4.
“It’s a good start to the year,” SMB coach Leo Austria said. “The players were so focused. It was a blessing in disguise that we couldn’t take Blackwater for granted.”
The Beermen certainly took the Elite, who are enjoying their best start in franchise history, seriously, establishing a 37-21 lead after the first quarter and never looking back as they went up by as many as 29 points early in the third quarter.
SMB also had a solid defensive plan on rookie sensation Mac Belo, who was held to just four points on five shots against seven rebounds in 22 minutes as a starter.
But even with the top rookie pick having an off night, the Elite managed to trim the deficit to just 11 points, 101-90, with a little over four minutes left, before Austria deployed his starters back to finish the job.
Art dela Cruz pace the Elite with 16 points, nine boards, and three steals, although he was scoreless in the fourth, while Raymond Aguilar added 15 points, including 10 in the final frame.
SMB 118 – Fajardo 25, Espinas 22, Cabagnot 14, Lassiter 14, Santos 8, Reyes 8, Tubid 8, Van Opstal 6, Ross 4, Garcia 4, Agovida 3, Heruela 2, McCarthy 0, Mabulac 0
BLACKWATER 93 – Dela Cruz 16, Aguilar 15, Pinto 12, Sumang 11, Buenafe 10, Forrester 7, Sena 6, Cervantes 4, Pascual 4, Belo 4, Miranda 2, Melano 2, Ababou 0, Banal 0
Quarterscores: 37-21, 65-40, 91-66, 118-93