By Michael Angelo S. Murillo
THE telling slide of the Alaska Aces in the ongoing PBA Philippine Cup came to an end on Wednesday as they swung back into winning with a 92-77 victory over the Meralco Bolts at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Played with more consistency on both ends of the court from start to finish, the Aces, which welcomed back erstwhile injured key players, got the better of the Bolts in their battle of struggling teams in the season-opening tournament of the Philippine Basketball Association to break their three-game losing skid and improve to 4-5 and stay in the hunt for a spot in the quarterfinals.
The Aces clicked early in the first quarter, racing to a 15-5 lead in the opening seven minutes.
But the Bolts would find their footing after, outscoring Alaska the rest of the way, 11-5, to narrow the gap at four points, 20-16, at the end of the first canto.
Getting some momentum at the tailend of the previous quarter, Meralco built on it at the beginning of the second frame.
The Bolts opened with a 9-0 blast, led by KG Canaleta and Nico Salva, to overtake the Aces, 25-20, by the 9:09 mark.
They would continue to hold control, 30-25, two minutes later before Alaska made a charge back on the lead of Chris Banchero.
Alaska sprinted to a 6-0 run in the next minute to reclaim the lead, 31-30, and used it as leverage to create some distance, 43-36, with two minutes left at the half.
When the first-half smoke cleared, the Aces remained on top by seven points, 45-38.
Meralco tried to make an early assault on the Alaska lead at the start of the third period but the latter was quick to nip it on the bud, tightening up the screw on defense while delivering from the offensive end.
The Aces built their biggest lead of 16 points, 60-44, at the 5:42 mark of the quarter as guard Simon Enciso found the range from beyond the arc.
Meralco though would get a jolt from Mr. Canaleta and rookie Bong Quinto after, slashing its deficit to half, 61-53.
Alaska survived the challenge and stayed ahead, 69-57, heading into the final canto.
In the fourth quarter, the Bolts stayed within striking distance of the Aces, just down by eight points, 78-70, with six minutes remaining.
The Aces, however, kept their opponents at bay with timely baskets.
They were up, 89-74, with two minutes left in the game and moved on to bury the Bolts some more for the skid-busting win.
Jeron Teng led the Aces in the win with 16 points and seven rebounds with Mr. Enciso finishing with 14 points, going 4-of-10 from beyond the arc.
Mr. Banchero and Sonny Thoss each had 13 points while back-from-injury JVee Casio had 12.
Kevin Racal, another returning Alaska player, wound up with nine points in his first game back from injury.
Mr. Salva, meanwhile, paced Meralco with 23 points with Mr. Canaleta adding 18.
“Coming into the game we knew we have to bring the energy. This game was very important for us and we thank God for giving us the victory. Hopefully we can build on this especially with some of our teammates now back playing,” said player of the game Teng after their win.
With the loss, the Bolts (3-7) were further buried at the bottom of the standings and might have seen their playoff hopes zapped.
Alaska next plays on March 24 against the San Miguel Beermen while Meralco finishes its elimination assignment against the Barangay Ginebra San Miguel Kings on March 27.
By Michael Angelo S. Murillo