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PBA: Alaska battles Star

SanMig's Coach Tim Cone post interview.    Photo by Tony Pionilla

Game Today (Smart Araneta)
7 p.m. – Star vs Alaska

Older and wiser, mentor and students meet again in the semis under slightly different circumstances.

Alaska kicks off the PBA Governors’ Cup best-of-5 semifinals tonight against defending champion Purefoods-Star, the lone twice-to-win survivor from the playoffs, and Hotshots coach Tim Cone, whose fingerprints are all over 13 of the Aces’ 14 league championships.

Game 1 is at 7 p.m. at the Smart Araneta Coliseum, with Aces coach Alex Compton, who took over the reins when Luigi Trillo stepped down after leading Alaska to its 14th title in 2013, looking to stamp his own name alongside that of Cone, the iron hand behind the Wilfred Steven Uytengsu franchise for 23 years until 2012, and the short-reigned Trillo.

Compton and the Aces will have to get past Cone and the Hotshots, however, a matchup that could draw some parallel from two seasons ago when Alaska ousted the San Mig Coffee Mixers, 3-1, in the PBA Commissioner’s Cup semis and went on to win its first championship in the post-Cone era by sweeping Barangay Ginebra San Miguel in the best-of-7 Finals.

To get a crack at snaring a second crown without going through the triangle offense – Cone’s favorite offensive system – the Aces will have to take out the triple-post structure and the man who swears by its undiminished value.

Alaska has a blueprint to help it accomplish that.

A little over a month ago, Alaska used a fourth quarter run behind import Romeo Travis, Vic Manuel and Jayvee Casio to beat Star, 92-86, and grab a share of leadership while sending the Hotshots to their fourth straight loss and a 1-4 slate.

A fallaway by Travis against Marc Pingris inside one minute remaining cushioned off Joe Devance’s 3-pointer while Casio sealed the outcome with a corner jumper, underscoring Alaska’s endgame capability to shake off one of the PBA stingiest defense.

The Aces never looked back from there, eventually claiming the No. 1 seed and the first twice-to-beat advantage in the quarterfinals. The Hotshots, on the other hand, had to struggle to remain above water, nearly falling into the abyss along with three other ousted teams before overcoming a playoff deficit and beating No. 4 seed Globalport.

Cone knows that semifinal series loss to his former players two years ago and the Hotshots’ defeat to virtually the same team just four weeks back could return to haunt them if they come unprepared.

“They are a formidable team. We have to bring our best game defensively against them,” said Cone after weathering a scary moment in their rubber match with Globalport, which they crushed by 53 points in their first meeting in the playoffs.

Alaska will have no problems throwing a barrage of defenders against Star import Marqus Blakely, James Yap, PJ Simon and Mark Barroca, and it will be up to the Hotshots to keep their offense from getting stalled by the Aces’ ferocious defensive pressure.

Disrupting Alaska’s multi-faceted offense will be a key to Star’s success since the Aces can hurt the Hotshots in a number of different ways, from Travis’ inside forays, Sonny Thoss’ post-up game and Vic Manuel’s slashing to the outside shooting of Dondon Hontiveros, RJ Jasul and Casio and that steamrolling machine Calvin Abueva.

How Cone intends to do that – something he couldn’t two years ago and again just four weeks back – will be the series’ biggest riddle.

The other semifinal series pitting Rain or Shine with San Miguel Beer starts tomorrow.

The Finals will be a best-of-7 affair.