By Michael Angelo S. Murillo
FOLLOWING a two-week break to give way to the campaign of the national team in the FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers, the Philippine Basketball Association returns today with a double-header set at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
On tap is the Philippine Cup encounter between the Meralco Bolts and Columbian Dyip at 4:30 p.m. and Phoenix Pulse Fuel Masters against the Northport Batang Pier at 7 p.m.
Meralco (2-3) has been having it up-and-down in the All-Filipino tournament and been middling early in the tournament.
Leading the way for the Bolts is Chris Newsome with 12.4 points per game to go along with 5.6 rebounds.
Guard Baser Amer is chipping in 11.6 points while Nico Salva has been good for 10.4 points.
The Bolts lost in their last game against the NLEX Road Warriors, 87-83, on Feb. 2 in a tightly fought match that was decided in the closing seconds.
Looking to thwart Meralco is Columbian (2-4), currently in a three-game slide.
Top rookie pick CJ Perez continues to lead the Dyip with all-around numbers of 17.3 points, 7.2 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.8 steals.
Columbian has seen their push dip significantly of late after opening the tournament with a 2-1 record. Its latest loss was dealt by the Alaska Aces, 94-72, on Feb. 6.
Meanwhile in the second game, Phoenix (5-1) tries to bounce back after absorbing its first loss of the tournament prior to the break.
The Fuel Masters saw their undefeated run halted by the league-leading Rain or Shine Elasto Painters, 98-94, on Feb. 10.
Jason Perkins had 27 points versus Rain or Shine but it was not enough to tow his team to the win.
“The loss stings but we are at 5-1 and we cannot complain about that. We just have to improve on the next game and avoid losing two straight to stay on track of a top-two finish in the elimination,” said Phoenix coach Louie Alas last time around.
“[The FIBA window break] has its pros and cons. Coming off a loss, of course, you want to get back right away. But on the other hand, it affords us time to assess what happened in this game and correct our mistakes,” he added.
Out to stop Phoenix’s rise is Northport (2-2), which is sliding of late after a 2-0 start.
The offensive juggernaut duo of Stanley Pringle (22.5 ppg) and Sean Anthony (20.5 ppg), the number one and two leaders in scoring in the tournament, are bannering the team with help from big man Mo Tautuaa (17 ppg and 8 rpg) and rookie Robert Bolick (13 ppg).
In their last game on Feb. 8, the Batang Pier lost to Rain or Shine, 107-100.
Meanwhile, the triumphant Gilas Pilipinas squad received a hero’s welcome on Monday night upon its arrival after securing for the country a spot in the FIBA Basketball World Cup in China later this year.
Defeating Kazakhstan, 93-75, in its final game in the World Cup Asian Qualifiers on Sunday in Astana, Gilas gave its cause a boost, winding up as the best four-placed team in the merged groups in the second round to punch a ticket to the quadrennial basketball spectacle.
“It’s a total team effort. It’s not only the team itself but also the people behind it, the SBP (Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas) for its total support to the team as well as to the PBA, all the team owners, the PBA board and Commissioner Willie Marcial. We thank as well the Filipino basketball fans in Qatar and Astana and here in the country who prayed for us,” said Gilas coach Yeng Guiao at their arrival.
The national team coach, too, gave credit to his team, especially naturalized player Andray Blatche, for really stepping up.
“Andray Blatche was crucial. It was very obvious. He read the situations well and did what he needed to do in the games. And the others stepped up as well,” said Mr. Guiao, who also touted the efforts of erstwhile Gilas coach Chot Reyes and the teams early in the qualifiers for allowing them to have enough cushion and margin for error in the end.