SAN Sebastian’s “Pinatubo Trio” finally returned to its deadly form, leading the Stags to an 80-62 victory over University of Perpetual Help on Thursday night that denied the Altas an outright spot in the NCAA Final Four at The Arena in San Juan.
Sluggish in the past few games, Ronald Pascual finally lived up to his capability as he combined with teammates Calvin Abueva and Ian Sangalang to power the Stags to their 12th win in 17 games.
The win not only assured the Stags of at least a playoff for the second spot and the twice-to-beat advantage that comes with it, it also denied the Altas’ outright entry to the Final Four.
The Altas had been handed a golden opportunity to reach the semis outright after Jose Rizal University lost to Emilio Aguinaldo College, 65-71, in the day's opening game, but they never came close to overhauling a big lead the Stags built early behind their three big guns.
The Altas and Bombers, who finished the elims level at 10-8 win-loss, now square off in a sudden-death playoff for the final berth in the finals. The match is tentatively set on Thursday (October 11).
Pascual, the team’s designated gunner who shot just 3-of-33 from three-point territory and averaged six points in his last three games, finished with 18 points, all from three-point distance.
Abueva’s, the league’s reigning MVP, delivered another all-around performance of 19 points, 17 rebounds, and seven assists, two blocks, and two steals, while Sangalang, Abueva’s most probable successor, had 16 points, 16 boards, two blocks, and two steals in 39 minutes on the court.
Coming off two straight losses to Final Four contenders Letran and JRU, the Stags made some tweaks to their defensive game, which worked as they hardly faced resistance from the Altas for the most part of the game.
“Nagkaroon kami ng adjustments defensively. Buti nag-pay off,” said Stags interim coach Allan Trinidad, whose wards limited the Altas to a season-low 22-percent clip from the field.
After their defense clicked, the Stags’ offense followed as they led by a comfortable margin throughout and established a lead as many as 20 points, 61-41, after a Pascual triple midway through the third quarter.
SSC (80) – Abueva 19, Pascual 18, Sangalang 16, Juico 13, Dela Cruz 6, Maiquez 3, Gusi 2, Vitug 2, Antipuesto 1, Balucanag 0
UPHSD (62) – Paulino 13, Vidal 12, Thompson 12, Allen 8, Arboleda 7, Jolangcob 4, Babayemi 2, Elopre 2, Alano 2
Quarterscores: 18-15, 46-31, 61-51, 80-62