“We are the ‘Never Quit Squad’,” Uytengsu said in a phone interview yesterday.
Uytengsu is certainly relishing on the recent success of his Aces, who on Sunday completed a three-game semifinal sweep of the deposed champion Star Hotshots to barge into the PBA Governors’ Cup finals.
The 82-77 victory over the Hotshots at the Smart Araneta Coliseum gave Alaska its 29th finals appearance since joining the league in 1986 after completing a series of comeback victories that included two in the semis series.
It revived thoughts of the Alex Compton-coached Aces being the new “Never Say Die” team, a mantra popularized by Barangay Ginebra San Miguel since the Robert Jaworski era.
While he described the comparison as an “ultimate compliment,” Uytengsu said a different catchphrase is more appropriate.
“We proved that we can come back and win games,” said Uytengsu. “It all started in the Philippine Cup finals against a very strong San Miguel Beer team… we won three come-from-behind games. We’re able to come back in Game 7 but we didn’t close it out.”
“This conference, we’re proving again and showing that (kind of character). We’re the ‘Never Quit Squad’… we’ll be injured, we’ll play hurt sometimes, but we’ll fight in every game,” added Uytengsu.
The Aces will face either the Rain or Shine Elasto Painters or the San Miguel Beermen in a best-of-seven finals to cap off the league’s 40th season.
ROS and SMB are tied at 1-1 at presstime after the two teams split the first two games by trading comeback wins.
Alaska is gunning for its 15th title and second since Tim Cone left the team in 2011 to build another Grand Slam team with the B-Meg/San Mig Super Coffee/Purefoods/Star franchise. The Aces are currently behind the Beermen’s 20 in the race for the league’s most number of championships.
“Obviously we’re all happy to be back in the finals. We’re taking another step towards that 15th title. It’s sweet regardless who we beat to make it to the finals,” said Uytengsu, who semis win came, incidentally, at Cone’s expense.
“It didn’t make any difference. He’s obviously a good coach, we had our success together… but I don’t look at it differently when it comes to winning a series to make to the finals,” added Uytengsu.
It also marked the second time the Aces beat Cone in the semis, the first being in the 2013 Commissioner’s Cup when they overcame a Game 1 setback to win the series in four games.
The Aces went on to sweep Ginebra in the finals to win the title, a feeling they hope would be replicated this conference.
Uytengsu fancies his team’s chances this conference with Compton having a vast nucleus led by import Romeo Travis, Sonny Thoss, Jvee Casio, Cyrus Baguio, Vic Manuel, Dondon
Hontiveros, rookies Chris Banchero and Rome dela Rosa, and do-it-all forward Calvin Abueva.
Whichever team Alaska meets in the finals, the Aces’ boss expects a tough championship series.
“Either team will be formidable, who ever gets there will be a tough series. Of course, that would be an interesting match up for you guys to write when we face SMB,” said Uytengsu.
“But Rain or Shine… this team has shown resiliency. This is a solid team, a well-coached team. Proof to that is that they been in the finals a number of times the last few years,” added Uytengsu.
Compton gave his players a day off yesterday, but will resume practice today at the Hoops Gym in Mandaluyong City.
“This will be our last day-off for this season. After that, we’ll start our preparation for the finals. We don’t know our opponent yet, but we’ll just do what we have to do to keep the players sharp,” said Compton.