Manila, Philippines – Unbeaten Petron Blaze goes for its seventh win when it battles Meralco as the PLDT myDSL PBA Philippine Cup holds an out-of-town game today at the Dipolog City Coliseum.
The Boosters are wary that the Bolts can pose a serious threat to their perfect start, especially after pulling off upset victories over Barangay Ginebra and San Mig Coffee this conference.
“We are trying to brace ourselves versus a very tough Meralco team,” said Petron Blaze coach Gee Abanilla. “We’re still trying to get everybody on the same page and work on our fluidity but for sure we want to be the best that we could be and play to our potential.”
The third provincial game of the season is set at 3:30 p.m., three days after Petron escaped with a 90-88 victory over Air21 on Alex Cabagnot’s game-winning jumper with three seconds left.
Cabagnot finished with 10 points and seven assists after missing the first five games due to a tore planar fasciitis (right foot) while Chris Ross also scored 10 markers after being sidelined for three games due to an injured hamstring.
Chris Lutz led the team’s balanced attack with 25 points, while June Mar Fajardo had 13 points, 16 boards and three shot blocks.
Petron, which also got 14 points and nine boards from reigning Most Valuable Player Arwind Santos and 13 points from Marcio Lassiter, is still without two key players – Ronald Tubid (knee) and Yousef Taha (knee).
Petron’s strong start has impressed Meralco coach Ryan Gregorio, and with Cabagnot and Ross, an ex-Bolt, back in the roster, he also expects a tough game.
“They won games when they were depleted, and they are more dangerous now that they are complete,” said Gregorio. “We have to bring out whatever we can muster to have a chance against the rampaging Petron Boosters.”
“Fajardo is a match-up problem especially with our small and depleted front-line rotation. But, we’ve won games despite our short ceiling by using our quickness. That is how we intend to compete against them. Quickness will be our weapon to compensate for our weakness in height and length,” Gregorio added.
The Bolts are fresh from a 72-64 win over San Mig last Wednesday as John Wilson scored 12 of his 19 points in the fourth quarter while Reynel Hugnatan contributed 16 points and eight rebounds in his first game back after missing two games with a right sprained ankle.
The win improved Meralco’s record to 3-3, and Gregorio is optimistic that the Bolts, who earlier in the conference beat Barangay Ginebra (100-87), have a strong chance of cooling off the surging Boosters.
“We passed huge tests against tournament favorites Ginebra and San Mig,” said Gregorio. “Now the biggest test will be Petron. We like our underdog tag. That compels us to play with tenacity and desire on both ends of the floor.”
“It’s not enough that our defense holds up against them. The challenge is to score against their defensive wall. They are the best defensive team in the league. We must find ways to loosen their defense and score,” he added.
Meralco is also dealing with injuries as Cliff Hodge continues to recuperate from a sprained left ankle, while off-season acquisition Kerby Raymundo is still out with a knee injury.
The Bolts are still a solid unit with Jared Dillinger, Mike Cortez, Gary David, Rabeh Al-Hussaini and Rey Guevarra. (Waylon Galvez)