THE solid form of the Star Hotshots in the ongoing PBA Philippine Cup continued yesterday as they barged into the semifinals after completing a sweep of the Phoenix Petroleum Fuel Masters in their best-of-three quarterfinals, 91-71.
Following up on their 114-83 rout of the Fuel Masters in the series opener last Saturday, the Hotshots earned the right to play in the final four of the season-opening Philipine Basketball Association (PBA) tournament where they will either face the Alaska Aces or Barangay Ginebra San Miguel Kings.
Apart from notching a semifinal berth, with the win, Star also stretched its current winning streak to five and is now packing much momentum heading into the semifinals.
In eliminating Phoenix, Star had stepped up the gas anew in the second half after seeing a persistent Fuel Masters on its heels.
The Hotshots had a strong opening half but the Fuel Masters kept staying within striking distance, trailing by just seven points at halftime, 42-35.
In the third period, Star would complement its steady offense with tough defense, limiting Phoenix to just 14 points while waxing hot for 23 to pad its lead to 65-49 at the end of the quarter.
With momentum on their side, the Hotshots would pile it over their opponents in the final canto and put the game away.
Paul Lee led Star with 17 points, nine assists and four rebounds.
Marc Pingris had 16 points and nine rebounds for the Hotshots, which also got 11 points each from Ian Sangalang and Jio Jalalon.
Matthew Wright, meanwhile, was the top man for Phoenix with 24 markers.
“Defense was once again the difference for us in this game. I told the boys it is our defense against our offense and good enough we delivered,” said winning coach Chito Victolero after the match.
Meanwhile, the Barangay Ginebra Kings try to complete an upset of higher-seeded Alaska in a winner-take-all quarterfinal match today at 7 p.m. at the Smart Araneta Coliseum to determine which team Star will face in the semifinals.
Facing a twice-to-win disadvantage in their quarters pairing, the seventh-seeded Kings lived to fight another day after defeating number-two team Alaska, 85-81, in Game One of their playoff joust last Sunday.
Barangay Ginebra rallied from 17 points down to pull the rug from under the Aces who at one point looked headed to booking a place in the semifinals.
LA Tenorio took charge in the second half for the Kings, pouring in 15 of his 16 points during that stretch to go along with six assists.
Scottie Thompson and Japeth Aguilar each had a double-double with the former finishing with 15 points and 10 rebounds and the latter tallying 15 markers and 12 boards.
For Alaska, it was Calvin Abueva who led the way with 20 points and 10 rebounds while JVee Casio had 16 points.