The Alaska Aces have been doing it so often this conference, one would think the Star Hotshots had been forewarned enough.
Apparently they weren’t, or just didn’t care.
Refusing to heed history and the admonition of their coach, who knows Alaska more than anybody else, the Hotshots sat on two 18-point leads in the first half and paid the price as the Aces came away with a 97-91 victory last night to take Game 1 of their PBA Governors’ Cup semifinal series at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Game 2 is at 7 p.m. tomorrow at the Big Dome.
A couple of days removed from having razed a 16-point third quarter advantage by Barangay Ginebra San Miguel during the playoffs, the Aces weaved another comeback magic that left the Star coaching staff with a number of questions to ponder in the next 48 hours if Star is to avert falling into a 2-0 hole in the best-of-5 semis.
Tim Cone, the former Alaska mentor who steered the Aces to 13 of their 14 PBA championships, warned the Hotshots against dropping their guards after James Yap’s 3-pointer gave them their second 18-point spread, 51-33, late in the second quarter, but evidently went unheard.
Not only did Jayvee Casio manage to launch a payback triple before the halftime buzzer to cut the deficit to 15, the Hotshots’ inexplicable sudden loss of interest in the closing minutes of the third allowed the Aces to wipe out a 9-point Star lead with a 14-4 run and seize the lead, 68-67, on Vic Manuel’s free throw.
Nowhere during the Alaska surge did Marqus Blakely, the Star import, figure in whatever manner the way he did in the first 24 minutes where he was untouchable and the Hotshots were shooting 50 percent from the floor to the Aces’ 38 percent.
A 7-0 run to start the fourth quarter shattered a 70-all count and the closest Star got was 77-76 the rest of the way as the Aces came up big in the clutch and the Hotshots lapsed into harrowing turnovers and misses.
Romeo Travis led Alaska with 28 points and 10 rebounds and was the key for the Aces when they made their pivotal run in the third quarter. Jayvee Casio added 18, including a breakaway layup with two Star defenders on his trail to make it, 92-84, with less than two minutes remaining. Backup guard Chris Banchero came off the bench for 10 points.
“I just told them that they’re not a quitter,” said Aces coach Alex Compton, who is 2-0 against Cone this conference. “I got a tough group of guys. I believe they’re not gonna give up. I just want our identity to come out in the second half. Their heart and unity got us this far.”
Listening to their coach, apparently, was a contributing factor as well for the Aces.
Blakely led Star with 23 points and 9 rebounds but was nowhere when he was needed in the last eight minutes.
Alaska routed Star inside the paint, 50 points to 32 and in second chance scoring, 23-10.
Compton was slapped a technical late in the game for arguing a no-call on a borderline goal-tending situation after Blakely swatted away a floater by Calvin Abueva. PJ Simon hit the penalty free throw to cut Alaska’s lead to 88-84, but Travis and Casio came to the rescue with four straight points.
ALASKA 97 – Travis 28, Casio 18, Banchero 10, Baguio 8, Abueva 8, Manuel 7, Dela Rosa 6, Hontiveros 6, Jazul 4, Thoss 2, Exciminiano 0, Menk 0, Dela Cruz 0.
STAR 91 – Blakely 23, Simon 16, Barroca 15, Yap 13, Mallari 6, Devance 6, Pingris 4, Pennisi 4, Melton 2, Reavis 2, Taha 0.
Quarters: 16-26; 36-51; 70-70; 97-91