Manila, Philippines – With one shot – a three-pointer from top of the key released one-handed – Cyrus Baguio demonstrated how near-effortlessly the Alaska Aces dealt with the Meralco Bolts in their do-or-die last night.
Baguio scooped up a botched inbound play by Meralco in the waning seconds of the second quarter and swished in a 23-footer at the buzzer to give Alaska its biggest lead of the first half, 47-25.
The Bolts would come within 13 points in the fourth but not any closer, leaving the Aces a smooth path to the PBA Philippine Cup semifinals, 87-69, against outright qualifier Rain or Shine at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Game 1 of the best-of-7 series between Rain or Shine and Alaska is on Christmas Day, Thursday, at the Mall of Asia Arena although the PBA has yet to give official confirmation on the schedule.
Nonetheless, it will be a rematch of the 2013 Governors Cup semifinals where the Elasto Painters ousted the Aces in five games.
Barangay Ginebra San Miguel and Talk ‘N Text will dispute the other Final Four slot tomorrow, 7 p.m., at the Big Dome, with the winner facing top seed San Miguel Beer in the other semis pairing.
Still haunted by the infamous Halloween Massacre where Alaska crushed Meralco by 41 points – a conference high – Bolts looked to get back at the Aces with a vengeance.
But the Aces established their dominance early as in their elimination round meeting, using heavy full-court defensive pressure to hold the Bolts to 26 percent shooting in the first quarter (5 of 19) and open a 27-12 headway.
The score deadlocked twice in the early minutes but there were no leadchanges as the Aces sustained a balanced scoring anchored on a free-wheeling offense set up by one of the league’s most stifling defenses.
“Sobra lang ganda umpisa namin; I think that’s the story of the game,” said Alaska coach Alex Compton. “The guys defended so hard in the first half. Doon kami talaga nanalo dahil I think even lang yung second half.”
Vic Manuel led the Aces with 17 points on 8 of 11 from the floor with 9 rebounds. Baguio added 15 although he missed his two other 3-point attempts, Dondon Hontiveros had 13 and Jayvee Casio 11 points with 4 assists. Calvin Abueva slipped in a quiet 5 points but made his presence felt by matching Manuel’s board haul.
The Alaska lead was at its biggest at 85-62.
Compton sees a tough series against Rain or Shine, whose team owners Terry Que and Raymond Yu gave the Aces mentor his first coaching opportunity years ago.
ALASKA 87 – Manuel 17, Baguio 15, Hontiveros 13, Casio 11, Banchero 8, Abueva 5, Jazul 5, Exciminiano 4, Dela Cruz 4, Menk 3, Dela Rosa 2, Eman 0, Thoss 0.
MERALCO 69 – Wilson 16, Anthony 11, Cortez 11, David 8, Caram 7, Hodge 5, Macapagal 4, Buenafe 3, Dillinger 2, Hugnatan 2, Ildefonso 0, Ferriols 0, Sena 0, Guevarra 0.
Quarters: 27-12; 47-25; 64-50; 87-69