By Michael Angelo S. Murillo
THE quarterfinal phase of the PBA Philippine Cup concludes today with a pair of rubber matches to determine the last two cast members in the semifinals of the season-opening Philippine Basketball Association tournament.
Set at the Smart Araneta Coliseum, the defending champions San Miguel Beermen, TNT KaTropa, Barangay Ginebra San Miguel Kings and Magnolia Hotshots Pambansang Manok angle to punch their way into the next round.
The Beermen collide with the KaTropa at 4:30 p.m. while the Kings battle the Hotshots at 7 p.m.
San Miguel had its chance to sweep its best-of-three affair with TNT but could not fend off a resilient challenge from the KaTropa in Game Two on Monday, to fall, 93-88, and be forced to a rubber match.
Five-time league most valuable player June Mar Fajardo had a monster double-double of 26 points and 19 rebounds but it was not enough to tow his team to the win.
“It’s a do-or-die Game Three for both teams now. It will be tough for us since TNT is playing well especially on defense. But we will make the adjustments. We hope to have a better start than the first two games and avoid playing catch-up all the time,” said San Miguel coach Leo Austria after their Game Two loss.
Christian Standhardinger finished with 18 points for the Beermen while guards Alex Cabagnot and Terrence Romeo added 16 and 12 points, respectively, in their loss.
For TNT, while it is happy to have forced the do-or-die match, it knows it is not out of the woods yet and work is still needed for the team to move past the Beermen.
“We just tied the series and nothing to celebrate just yet,” TNT coach Bong Ravena underscored in the postgame press conference after Game Two.
“San Miguel played well tonight but we were lucky that some of our outside shots went in, something that was lacking last time around. Our defense also held its own and hopefully we get to sustain that in the next game,” he added.
Roger Pogoy top-scored for TNT in Game Two with 20 markers with Jayson Castro adding 19 points and nine assists.
Troy Rosario finished with 15 points and drained a key three-pointer late in the game that gave his team breathing room to run to the victory.
Meanwhile, the “Manila Clasico” quarterfinals between Barangay Ginebra and Magnolia continue with the latter looking to build on their huge 106-77 victory in Game Two and complete a come-from-behind series win after falling a game down early.
“We have tied the series and the good thing about it, too, was that we played our brand of basketball unlike the first game where we played poorly as a team. I like our chances. We said we wanted to have chance to compete and we are here now,” said Magnolia coach Chito Victolero.
“For Game Three, we will prepare hard to go all the way,” he added.
Ian Sangalang paced the Hotshots in Game Two with 21 points with Robbie Herndon adding 18 points.
Jio Jalalon had a brilliant all-around game of 17 points, six assists, six rebounds and five steals. Mark Barroca and Paul Lee each had 13 in a balanced attack by Magnolia.
For Barangay Ginebra, the order business is to bounce back after a tough and biting loss.
“We weren’t able to match up with them throughout the game. We came close a couple of times but they found ways to pound on us. For Game Three we have to get everybody involved and bring the intensity. It is do-or-die for both teams so we should expect 100% effort from the two teams,” said Kings big man Greg Slaughter on what happened to them in Game Two and what they need to do in today’s game.
Mr. Slaughter struggled to just five points last time around for Barangay Ginebra, which only had Sol Mercado scoring in double digits with 13 points.