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PBA: Alaska alive

Doug Kramer of San Miguel fouled Alaska's Calvin Abueva during PBA action at Smart Araneta Coliseum.  Photo by Tony Pionilla

Aces force winner-take-all Game 7

Game Wednesday (Smart Araneta)
7 p.m. – San Miguel Beer vs. Alaska (Game 7)

Manila, Philippines – The Alaska Aces welcomed back JVee Casio in the championship series and the PBA Philippine Cup Finals welcomed its first Game 7 in six years.

Casio awoke from a long scoreless spell last night, making a significant contribution in the second half as the Aces rallied from a double-digit deficit in the first quarter of Game 6 to turn back San Miguel Beer, 87-76, and force a winner-take-all seventh game on Wednesday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.

Alaska went up 3-2 against Talk ‘N Text in the 2009 PH Cup Finals but wound up losing the last two games. Only Sonny Thoss and team captain Tony dela Cruz remain from that team and the two vets will be leading the latest-edition Aces when they seek redemption from that setback three days from now.

It will only be the 3rd Game 7 in 17 previous conferences although 23 teams have stretched a title showdown to the limit before and 32 overall including the semifinals.

“I’m just grateful at how our guys play as hard as they do,” said Alaska coach Alex Compton. “You just have to believe in their character.”

Dondon Hontiveros led Alaska with 18 points with 3 three-point shots while Thoss added 13 with 9 rebounds. He also held June Mar Fajardo to 9 points on 2 of 7 from the floor, the lowest output in the series for the SMB center.

The Aces are 12-0 this conference when holding an opponent below 80 points.

More than half the crowd of 14,259 came to celebrate the Beermen’s 20th PBA title and first PH Cup championship in 14 years. But the Aces shook off a cold start to deny SMB its 5th all-Filipino crown and keep the multicolored victory balloons tied to the Big Dome ceiling.

Arwind Santos led SMB with 24 points and Marcio Lassiter added 19. But Alex Cabagnot was 2 of 11 from the floor and Fajardo scoreless in the second quarter when Alaska turned things around.

“We knew it won’t be easy against a team like Alaska,” said SMB coach Leo Austria. “Bottom line is we were outhustled in every department.”

That was an understatement.

SMB got mangled in production off the bench, 53 points to 14, in turnover points, 20-4, inside the paint, 58-22, in second chance points, 17-7, and in fast break, 16-6.

Casio returned from a reported stomach flu that left him drained in Games 4 and 5 to score 5 points with 6 rebounds and 2 assists, his first basket, after going without one in the previous two games which Alaska lost, giving the Aces a 54-40 lead with 7:09 left in the third quarter.

“It’s a good feeling being able to help my team in any way I can,” said Casio, who played 31 minutes.

The Beermen blew a 14-point first quarter lead after their second team failed to sustain the momentum built by their starters who used a 13-0 run to open an 18-4 advantage 8 minutes into the game.

SMB may also have been a little slow in bringing back its first team late in the period when Alaska’s bench, actually made up of the Aces’ top scorers – Dondon Hontiveros, Calvin Abueva and Vic Manuel – started dominating its counterpart.

A 4-point play by Hontiveros highlighted a 9-2 Alaska windup in the opening period that cut the deficit to 23-17. The former SMB player then had 5 points and Manuel 4 to kick off the second as the Beermen committed 4 turnovers and went scoreless in the first 4 minutes before Santos hit a jumper with 7:58 remaining.

By then Alaska had wrested the upper hand to take an 8-point advantage before Santos beat the buzzer to cut the Aces’ lead, 42-36, at the half.

Chaos reigned at the SMB bench at the start of the second period, with Austria lashing out at Cabagnot following a passing error, as Alaska, putting heavy defensive pressure on the Beermen backcourt, charged back to complete an 11-0 run that began in the first.

ALASKA 87 – Hontiveros 18, Thoss 13, Manuel 12, Baguio 10, Casio 9, Exciminiano 8, Dela Cruz 6, Abueva 5, Jazul 4, Banchero 2, Eman 0, dela Rosa 0, Menk 0, Espinas 0.

SAN MIGUEL 76 – Santos 24, Lassiter 19, Fajardo 9, Cabagnot 8, Kramer 5, Lutz 4, Tubid 3, Omolon 2, Semerad 2, Ross 0, Pascual 0, Fortuna 0, Chua 0, Maierhofer 0.

Quarters: 17-23, 42-36, 63-56, 87-76