By Michael Angelo S. Murillo
FINALLY barged into the win column of the PBA Philippine Cup last time around, the Magnolia Hotshots Pambansang Manok seek to take their tournament bid to further flight when they return to league action today at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Won their first game in the season-opening Philippine Basketball Association tournament last weekend after four tries, the Hotshots (1-3) try to make it two wins in a row when they take on the league-leading Phoenix Pulse Fuel Masters (7-1) in the 7 p.m. main game.
Magnolia defeated the Meralco Bolts, 92-86, in an out-of-town game in Cagayan de Oro City on March 2 to halt a streak of futility that had it pinned down at the bottom of the standings.
Found themselves in a very tight contest against the Bolts, the Hotshots cranked things up late in the game to pull off the much-needed victory.
Guard Jio Jalalon paced Magnolia in the win with 19 points, nine rebounds and four assists with Paul Lee adding 15 points.
Ian Sangalang had a double-double of 12 points and 16 rebounds for the Hotshots while Mark Barroca finished with 11 markers.
Out to stop Magnolia and send it crashing back on the ground is Phoenix, which is angling to finish a banner elimination round on a very high note.
The Fuel Masters have won their last two games, the last one a 94-80 stomping of the Alaska Aces on March 1.
Leading the way for Phoenix in the tournament is Matthew Wright, who is averaging 19.6 points, 5.6 rebounds and 4.4 assists.
Calvin Abueva has been steady for the Fuel Masters with 15.6 points, 11.8 rebounds, 2.4 assists, a steal and a block while Jason Perkins is chipping in 14 points and 8.4 rebounds.
Incidentally, Mr. Abueva is the reigning PBA player of the week for the period of Feb. 27 to March 3.
Mr. Abueva edged teammates Wright and Justin Chua, Blackwater Elite’s Allein Maliksi and Mac Belo and Mr. Jalalon for the weekly plum.
Playing in the opening game at 4:30 p.m., meanwhile, are the Rain or Shine Elasto Painters (7-2) and Columbian Dyip (3-5).
The Elasto Painters saw their five-game winning streak come to an end on March 3 with a 100-92 defeat at the hands of the TNT KaTropa while the Dyip fell to Blackwater, 106-101, on March 1.