By Michael Angelo S. Murillo
STRUGGLING teams in the ongoing PBA Philippine Cup battle in key matches today at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
The Alaska Aces, Meralco Bolts, Magnolia Hotshots Pambansang Manok and Northport Batang Pier, teams on the fringes of the playoff picture, plunge into action with the end view of notching a much-needed win to fan their respective causes of advancing to the next round of the season-opening Philippine Basketball Association tournament.
Alaska (3-5) faces off with Meralco (3-6) in the curtain-raiser at 4:30 p.m. while Magnolia (3-5) tussles with Northport (2-5) in the 7 p.m. night cap.
The Aces enter the contest having lost three straight which have considerably stymied their campaign after opening the tournament with a 3-2 card in their first five games.
The most recent of Alaska’s defeats were dealt by the TNT KaTropa, 92-78, on March 15.
Alaska struggled mightily in its offense in said game, unable to keep in step with TNT en route to the defeat.
Carl Bryan Cruz led the Aces with 19 points, followed by Sonny Thoss with 13 and Chris Banchero and Simon Enciso with 12 points apiece.
Seeing how his undermanned team has been struggling in the tournament, Alaska coach Alex Compton is just hoping that they get their groove back in time and play their style of play consistently.
“Hopefully we get healthy and get back to who we are and how we play,” Mr. Compton was quoted as saying in the lead-up to today’s game, which he considers as “huge” relative to their push for a quarterfinal spot.
Alaska continues to play sans key cogs Vic Manuel, JVee Casio and Kevin Racal.
Meralco, for its part, is angling for a positive result as well after dropping a close one to the Rain or Shine Elasto Painters, 88-85, also on March 15.
The Bolts had their chances to win back-to-back games in their match versus the Elasto Painters that would have helped their bid but just could not go over Rain or Shine down the stretch.
Nico Salva was the high point man for Meralco with 18 points with Reynel Hugnatan adding 16. Baser Amer and Brian Faundo each had 10 points for the Bolts but these were not enough to tow their team to the win.
Meralco coach Norman Black said they have to bring their A-game in their last two assignments in the elimination round, beginning with the Alaska game.
Incidentally, like Alaska, the Bolts are missing key pieces in Jared Dillinger and Ranidel De Ocampo because of injuries.
HOTSHOTS VS BATANG PIER
In the second game, the Hotshots and Batang Pier collide, with both teams hoping to catch a break.
Magnolia is coming off a tough overtime loss to the Barangay Ginebra San Miguel Kings, 97-93, in their “Manila Clasico” on March 17.
The loss effectively halted for the Hotshots a two-game winning streak and derailed their push up to the top half of the standings.
Leading the way for Magnolia is big man Ian Sangalang with averages of 15.9 points and 10.8 rebounds followed by Mark Barroca with norms of 13.5 points and 4.1 assists.
Jio Jalalon has been do it all for Magnolia with 12.3 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.3 assists while Paul Lee has been adding 11.6 points and 3.6 assists.
In an even deeper hole is Northport, which has seen a solid start to the tournament laid to waste, having lost its last five games.
Started the Philippine Cup with a 2-0 record, the Batang Pier have not won since and are now scrambling to make up for lost time and win majority of their remaining games, if not sweep it all.
Guard Stanley Pringle is spearheading the Northport bid with 22.2 points and 4.8 assists while Sean Anthony is not far behind with 21.3 points, 8.6 rebounds and 4.3 assists.
Big man Mo Tautuaa has been good for 19.9 points and 8.7 rebounds and rookie Robert Bolick 11.3 points and 3.7 assists.
Meanwhile, the PBA player of the week is NLEX Road Warriors’ Bong Galanza.
The rejuvenated NLEX wing man averaged 16 points, three rebounds, 2.5 steals and an assist in their twin victories during the period of March 11-17 to get the nod for the award given by the league press corps.
The NLEX victories afforded the team to improve to 4-5 and still in contention for a playoff spot.