SAN Miguel Beer's historic quest remains alive, thanks largely to a performance for the books by June Mar Fajardo.
Fajardo notched game-highs of 32 points and 14 rebounds in leading the Beermen's charge to a cruising 96-86 victory over the TNT KaTropa Wednesday and into the PBA Philippine Cup semifinals at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Christian Standhardinger sank his first seven shots to finish with 17 points and Chris Ross did his part on the defensive side as the defending champion led from start to finish to wrap up the best-of-three quarterfinals matchup 2-1.
After bouncing back in a big way from an 88-93 loss just last Monday, SMB now gets a crack at eliminations topnotcher Phoenix in the best-of-seven semis that could start either Friday or Saturday pending final word from the league.
The Beermen's bid to stretch their league record with a fifth straight title in the import-less tourney also remained alive with huge credit going to Fajardo, who went a perfect 11-for-11 from the field to tie Ali Peek for third all-time in that department.
Peek went 11-for-11 for Alaska in a 2001 game and also set a 12-for-12 record while with Coke in 2006 before getting tied by former Coke import Jason Dixon in 2008.
"Gusto naming makabalik sa finals," said the reigning five-time MVP, while refusing to hog all the credit.
"Lahat nag-step up," maintained Fajardo. "Buti nanalo kami. Thankful nanalo kami."
His team simply played up to its collective sense of urgency, explained SMB coach Leo Austria. "The players were self-motivated. They refused to lose at mag-bakasyon ng maaga," he said.
"I have to commend the whole team," added Austria. "This is a very important game. Everybody stepped up kaya wala akong masabi sa kanila and thank God ni-reward kami ng hard work nila."
Sadly for TNT, it failed to translate its own motivation into game and thus missed out on a chance to end a long absence in the semis dating back to the 2017 Governors Cup.
Roger Pogoy's 16 points were enough to pace the KaTropa, who also drew 10 points each from Troy Rosario, Brian Heruela, Yousef Taha and Jayson Castro.
Pogoy, however, scored half of his points in the fourth quarter, when the outcome has been practically settled. Castro, hounded no end by Ross' defense, only made three of 10 field goal tries in a stark departure from his 19-point game just two days ago.
His team forcing TNT into a 32-for-88 field shooting overall also makes Austria proud.
"We've been criticized before na wala kaming defense, but tonight you saw San Miguel's team defense," pointed out Austria, whose team made 37 of 82 shots and slacking only after Fajardo's putback gave it its last 26-point bulge at 85-59.
Fajardo clearly set the tone with 10 points in his first 7:06 of play that led SMB's surge to a 13-2 lead.
Even when Fajardo sat down, there was Standhardinger coming in and scoring six straight points to jack the lead up to 19-5 and 25-10 after one quarter.
It didn't help TNT any that it made only two of its first 16 shots on top of six turnovers while SMB had as many attempts but sank half of those.
The trend continued in the second period, with Marcio Lassiter's basket giving the Beermen their first 26-point lead at 53-27 at the half. (NC)
San Miguel 96 - Fajardo 32, Standhardinger 17, Romeo 11, Cabagnot 8, Ross 8, Santos 7, Lassiter 6, Tubid 5, Rosser 2, Pessumal 0, Zamar 0.
TNT 86 - Pogoy 16, Heruela 10, Castro 10, Taha 10, Rosario 10, Williams 9, Bono 6, Reyes 5, A. Semerad 4, Trollano 2, Washington 2, Casino 2, Carey 0, D. Semerad 0.
Quarters: 25-10, 53-27, 77-55, 96-86.