MANILA: GRACE B. CASTILLO
Published — Saturday 15 December 2012
Last update 14 December 2012 9:03 pm
Alaska now has something to brag about in the post-Tim Cone era.
With a solid game to back up their hunger, the Aces tore Meralco to shreds, 88-70, at the Araneta Coliseum last night to sweep the fatigued Bolts and make the PBA Philippine Cup’s Final Four – the Aces’ first semifinal stint since their long-time coach left two seasons ago.
The Aces opened up with a 20-5 lead and never looked back, playing with complete command with super rookie Calvin Abueva inspiring the squad on both ends and the ever-reliable Cyrus Baguio always there to bail Alaska out of trouble.
Abueva finished with 18 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks, getting to play 33 minutes this time after staying away from foul trouble, and the result was a puzzle the Bolts never got to solve all night.
Baguio, meanwhile, played without much fanfare, stoic all night but razor-sharp in hurting the Bolts.
The sky walking former Santo Tomas ace in the UAAP shared scoring honors with Abueva as Alaska will make a Final Four appearance for the first time since the Aces won the 2010 Fiesta Conference with an import named Diamon Simpson.
Alaska has never gone this far in a tournament ever since that championship run and after Cone left a season later to coach B-Meg, now San Mig Coffee.
With their 2-0 victory in the best-of-three series, the Aces advanced to face No. 1 Talk ‘N Text in a race-to-four affair starting Thursday, with Alaska having the confidence against the defending champions after being just one of two teams to beat them in the eliminations.
“I don’t want to take anything away from us, but Meralco was a tired team out there,” Alaska coach Luigi Trillo told reporters.
For the young coach, steering the team this deep in the conference is also a personal milestone, having won just three games in his first tournament with Alaska last season.
“It’s a dream come true for me,” continued Trillo, who took over from Joel Banal two weeks before the Governors’ Cup last season. “If you’re facing a coaching staff like (what) Meralco (has), I never expected that it would be like this.”
San Mig was the No. 2 squad in the eliminations and went through the wringer in repulsing Petron Blaze on Thursday to make the Final Four. The Mixers will still have to await their foes after Barangay Ginebra took its best-of-three series with Rain or Shine to the distance.
The Gin Kings came alive in the third period and had just enough left to hold off the Elasto Painters in the stretch for a 79-77 win that leveled their series at 1-all.
Rudy Hatfield came off the bench to fuel that spirited second half effort by the Kings, who trailed by twin digits in the second quarter.
Hatfield, at 35 one of the oldest players in the league, finished with 10 points, nine rebounds and the steal of the night which prevented the Painters from taking the potential game-tying attempt.
The 6-foot-4 workhorse picked Gabe Norwood’s inbound pass to Jervy Cruz with 2.4 seconds remaining, igniting a wild celebration in the stands and giving the Kings a new lease on life.
Rookie Chris Ellis led the Kings with 18 points and a career-high 10 rebounds and Mark Caguioa had 17. Paul Lee, in just his third game with the Painters after coming back from a shoulder operation, had 19 points and led all Rain or Shine shooters.
But the Painters will come into the KO game on Sunday as still the favorites after they almost pulled Game 2 out of the fire despite not being at their best.
Only Jeff Chan was able to finish in twin digits for the Painters with 12 as the Painters shot just over 33% from the floor, including just 9-of-33 from beyond three-point range.
“We have achieved anything yet,” Ginebra coach Siot Tanquingcen said. “We have to go out and play our best on Sunday because Rain or Shine is a very tough team.”