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Sweep looms for Aces

Game Tomorrow
(Philsports Arena, Pasig)
5 p.m. – Alaska vs San Miguel (Game 4)

LUCENA CITY – The Alaska Aces are one win away from wiping the slate clean with an improbable sweep against the San Miguel Beermen.

Crushed after losing Game 7 of the Finals in this same conference last season, Alaska again rose to the challenge of crunch time Friday to turn back San Miguel, 82-75, for a commanding 3-0 lead in the Smart Bro-PBA Philippine Cup championship series at the Quezon Convention Center.

History is against the Beermen since no team in the 41 years of the PBA has ever come back all the way after falling behind 0-3 in a best-of-7 showdown, and the Aces hope to add to tradition in Game 4 tomorrow at the Philsports Arena.

If Alaska succeeds in sweeping SMB, then the Aces would have settled the score after getting shut down in four games by the Beermen in the previous Governors Cup Finals. But more than that, a gaping wound left open after Arwind Santos delivered a dagger 3-point shot in the waning seconds of the championship game almost a year ago would finally heal.

For a moment, however, it seemed an old nemesis was back to torment the Aces.

With 4:11 remaining, Santos, who had bricked 8 of his first 9 three-point attempts, buried one from the left wing to cut Alaska’s lead to 72-71. Alex Cabagnot then gave SMB the upper hand, 75-74, three minutes later with a perfectly-executed inbound play from the sideline.

But just like in Games 1 and 2, blowing a double-digit advantage in the opener and allowing Alaska to dodge the bullet in the second game, SMB couldn’t muster a strong finish to put away Game 3, sealing its fate by going scoreless in the final 1:43 after Cabagnot’s go-ahead point blank basket.

As expected, SMB was without injured center June Mar Fajardo, fueling speculations he will no longer make an appearance for the rest of the series, especially with the near insurmountable odds facing them.

RJ Jasul hit back-to-back baskets and Sonny Thoss, who rejected a driving Yancy de Ocampo ealier, hit two free throws as Alaska, which closed out Game 1 with a 9-0 run, wrapped up Game 3 with a 6-0 windup.

In yet another splendid performance that may have cemented his claim on the Finals MVP award, Vic Manuel scored 17 points to power the Aces, scoring seven straight points when Alaska overcame a 58-55 deficit going to the fourth quarter.

He also survived a hard elbow to the jaw with 9:32 left that saw SMB center Jay-R Reyes getting slapped a flagrant 2 foul and getting ejected.

After De Ocampo, three more forgotten souls from SMB’s much-maligned bench stepped out of the shadow long cast by Fajardo to key the Beermen’s resurgence from a sluggish start.

The Beermen, after trailing 16-4 halfway in the first quarter, took the half, 41-31, behind the heroics of Jay-R Reyes, Ryan Arana, and back-up point guard Brian Heruela, all three products of recent trade deals whose value skyrocketed after the opening 24 minutes of the game with SMB in danger of getting blown out.

As if on cue, both teams traded 13-0 runs in the first quarter, with the Aces opening a 16-4 lead as SMB missed six of its first seven shots, including four 3-point attempts. The Beermen, matching up with Alaska’s effective two-point guard setup, then struck back behind Alex Cabagnot and Marcio Lassiter to close in at 20-17 after 12 minutes.

ALASKA 82 – Manuel 17, Abueva 13, Thoss 12, Baguio 11, Banchero 7, Baclao 6, Jazul 6, Menk 5, Casio 4, Dela Rosa 1, Dela Cruz 0, Exciminiano 0, Hontiveros 0.

SAN MIGUEL 75 – Reyes 13, Tubid 10, Arana 9, Cabagnot 9, Santos 9, Espinas 8, Lassiter 8, Lutz 4, Ross 3, De Ocampo 2, Heruela 0.

Quarters: 20-17, 31-41, 58-55, 82-75.