By Michael Angelo S. Murillo
VICTORIOUS heading into PBA Philippine Cup action today at the Mall of Asia Arena, the Alaska Aces and Rain or Shine Elasto Painters try to keep their winning form before the league takes a two-week break.
The Aces (1-1) play the Blackwater Elite (1-5) in the 4:30 p.m. curtain-raiser while the league-leading Elasto Painters (6-1) meet the Magnolia Hotshots Pambansang Manok (0-2) in the main game at 7 p.m.
Today’s matches will be the last before the Philippine Basketball Association shuts down for a while to give way to the campaign of the PBA-backed Philippine men’s national basketball team in the sixth and final window of the FIBA Basketball World Cup Asian Qualifiers.
Gilas Pilipinas (5-5) will play in two away matches — Feb. 21 against Qatar and Feb. 24 versus Kazakhstan — where it hopes to get favorable results to boost its chances of making it anew to the high-profile quadrennial basketball tournament.
Alaska bounced back in their last game after losing in its debut in the Philippine Cup.
The Aces defeated Columbian, 94-72, on Feb. 6, banking on a firmer footing and steady attack to chalk up their first victory in the season-opening PBA tournament.
Carl Bryan Cruz came off the bench to help undermanned Alaska to the win, finishing with 20 points to go along with nine boards.
Jake Pascual had 13 points while Ping Exciminiano and Chris Banchero had 12 and 10 points, respectively, for Alaska, which continued to play sans Vic Manuel, Simon Enciso, JVee Casio and Kevin Racal because of injuries.
The effort of the team was not lost to Coach Alex Compton, who hopes such continues for them as they continue to adjust to the setup they are made to deal with.
“I really appreciate my guys’ efforts. I thought pretty much the whole game, of course there were spots, but I thought pretty much the whole game we were energetic, all over the place, covering grounds, getting to the loose ball. The things that really matter,” said Mr. Compton following their first win.
He went on to share that they are still far from playing with a full complement but believes they can compete nonetheless with the players they have.
Looking to derail Alaska is Blackwater, which is still struggling with its new-look lineup and has lost three straight entering today’s game.
GUNNING FOR FIFTH WIN
Meanwhile, Rain or Shine is the hottest team in the league right now and is looking to stretch its current winning streak to five with a win today.
The latest of the victories of the Elasto Painters was against the Phoenix Pulse Fuel Masters, 98-94, on Feb. 10 in their battle of league-leaders.
Displaying anew their free-flowing attack with contributions coming from different directions, the Elasto Painters held tough amid a stiff challenge from the Fuel Masters to will themselves to the top of the standings.
Beau Belga and Kris Rosales led Rain or Shine with 16 points apiece with Maverick Ahanmisi, Raymond Almazan and Rey Nambatac adding, 13, 12, and 10 points, respectively.
With the victory, Rain or Shine assured itself of another playoff spot in the All-Filipino tournament.
But for Elasto Painters Coach Caloy Garcia, the work continues for their team even with the postseason spot already in the bag.
“We can’t be complacent. We know it gets harder every game. We cannot make being tired as an excuse. We hope to continue working as a team,” said Mr. Garcia.
Waiting for Rain or Shine today is Magnolia, which is the only winless team left in the Philippine Cup.
By Michael Angelo S. Murillo