By Michael Angelo S. Murillo
OPENING-DAY winners Blackwater Elite go for a second win in row when they test their mettle against defending Philippine Basketball Association Commissioner’s Cup champions Barangay Ginebra San Miguel Kings in league action at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Fresh from their 94-91 overtime victory over the Meralco Bolts on May 19, the Elite try to sustain their good start in their scheduled 7 p.m. encounter with the Kings, who are making their debut in this year’s edition of the midseason tournament.
The Elite gallantly fought off the spirited fight of the Bolts, finding ways down the stretch to outlast their opponents.
Import Alex Stepheson showed the way for Blackwater in their dig-deep victory, finishing with 21 points and 31 rebounds.
Mike DiGregorio also had 21 markers for the Elite while rookie Ray Parks, Jr. had 20 points and eight rebounds in his first official game in the PBA.
Allein Maliksi was the other Blackwater player who scored in double digits with 12 points.
Delivering the way they did in a tightly fought contest, new Elite coach Aris Dimaunahan heaped praises on his players , underscoring how they stuck together and to their game plan.
“I’m happy that the players stuck together against a Meralco team which is strong in import-laden tournaments. They stuck to our game plan and worked hard till the end,” said Mr. Dimaunahan postgame.
The win marked the first win of the new Elite coach after being named to replace Bong Ramos during the in-between conference break.
“I couldn’t be any happier than this. Hopefully, we get another one the next time out although it will be a big test for me as after Coach Norman [Black of Meralco], it’s coach Tim [Cone of Barangay Ginebra]. I’d be more motivated. We’ll see what happens. We’ll prepare and come up with the best game plan possible against Ginebra,” he added.
Meanwhile, out to have a good start to their title defense are the Kings, who have brought back multi-titled PBA import Justin Brownlee to banner their campaign.
Barangay Ginebra failed to advance in the quarterfinals of the previous tournament and are angling to have a better showing this time around.
Mr. Brownlee said he is ready to help the Kings anew and believes that with support from the rest of the team they can defend their crown.
“I feel great entering the new conference. I’m fresh and the tournament I played in previously helped me to stay in shape,” said the 31-year-old Brownlee, who last played in the Lebanese league where he helped Sporting Al Riyadi Beirut to the title.
“We are ready to defend the title and bounce back after the loss last conference and the Governor’s Cup before that,” he added.
Playing in the curtain-raiser today at 4:30 p.m., meanwhile, are the Bolts and Columbian Dyip, who both lost in the tournament opener.
Meralco got a good output from import Gani Lawal Jr. in his debut with 34 points and 21 rebounds.
It was not enough though to tow his team against Blackwater.
The Dyip, for their part, were 111-98 losers to the Alaska Aces last time around.
Import Kyle Barone had 30 points and 22 rebounds for Columbian while rookie CJ Perez finished with 19 points in their defeat.