By Michael Angelo S. Murillo
ON a roll before the Philippine Basketball Association took a two-week break for the FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers window, the Alaska Aces look to pick up where they left off when they return to action today at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Currently sporting a 2-1 record, good for solo third in the standings of the ongoing Philippine Cup, after winning back-to-back games, the Aces now channel their focus on winning three in a row in their match against the Phoenix Pulse Fuel Masters (6-1) in the main game set for 7 p.m.
The latest of the victories of Alaska came at the expense of the Blackwater Elite, 103-101, on Feb. 13.
Against the Elite, the Aces had it tough needing to stretch itself in the end to come out on top.
It was a balanced attack for Alaska, with at least six players scoring nine points or more, led by 18 points each from Jeron Teng and Carl Bryan Cruz.
Guard Chris Banchero also had an impressive double-double for the Aces of 11 points and 16 assists. The victory was the second straight for Alaska after opening its campaign with a loss.
Following their latest victory, Aces coach Alex Compton said he is proud of how his team has been playing considering they are still not in full force with several key players still out with injuries.
“I thought the guys did a tremendous job, considering what’s going on [with all our injuries,” said Mr. Compton, who prior to the break still missed the services of Vic Manuel, Jayvee Casio, Simon Enciso and Kevin Racal.
The team is hoping to get said players back in harness for the remainder of the tournament.
Out to stop Alaska is Phoenix, which got back on the winning track on Wednesday after absorbing its first loss of the tournament previously.
The Fuel Masters survived a tough challenge from Northport Batang Pier last time around to win, 98-96.
Matthew Wright led Phoenix to the win with 22 points with Justin Chua, Calvin Abueva, Jason Perkins and RJ Jazul also ending up in double digits.
The Fuel Masters also played tough defense, especially in the end, to help their cause, something that was not lost to coach Louie Alas.
“Our character defensively has improved. Four of our six won games came from our strong defense,” he said.
Mr. Alas also underscored that the two-week break of the PBA to give way to Gilas Pilipinas’ campaign helped them.
“The break helped us. We were able to rest our banged-up players like Calvin Abueva and Matthew Wright. We also had a lot of activities to improve our chemistry,” he said.
Opening festivities today is the match between Columbian Dyip (3-4) and Blackwater (1-6) at 4:30 p.m.
Meanwhile, the league had announced the names of players that will participate in the annual PBA All-Star Game on March 10 in Calasiao, Pangasinan.
Starting for the North Team are Mr. Abueva, Japeth Aguilar and LA Tenorio of Barangay Ginebra, Paul Lee of Magnolia and Marcio Lassiter of San Miguel.
The South All-Stars are June Mar Fajardo of San Miguel, Greg Slaughter and Scottie Thompson of Barangay Ginebra, Mark Barroca of Magnolia and James Yap of Rain or Shine.
Making up the reserves, who were selected by the league coaches, are Jayson Castro and Troy Rosario of TNT, Arwind Santos and Alex Cabagnot of San Miguel, Stanley Pringle of Northport, Marc Pingris of Magnolia, Gabe Norwood of Rain or Shine and Chris Banchero of Alaska for the North, and Terrence Romeo and Chris Ross of San Miguel, Roger Pogoy of TNT, Baser Amer of Meralco, PJ Simon and Jio Jalalon of Magnolia, JP Erram of NLEX and Joe Devance of Barangay Ginebra for the South.