by Jonas Terrado
Ian Sangalang’s PBA Philippine Cup Finals meeting against four-time reigning Most Valuable Player June Mar Fajardo was seen as a chance to showcase whether he has already established himself as one of the league’s premier centers.
But if the Magnolia Hotshots Pambansang Manok’s stunning comeback in Friday’s Game 1, Sangalang seems to be on his way to cementing that status after scoring 14 of his 29 points in the final quarter of the 105-103 win at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
The southpaw highlighted Magnolia’s searing rally by knocking down two free throws after fishing a Fajardo foul with 16.9 seconds left that broke a 103-all tie, a decisive moment that Sangalang acknowledged with an unassuming style.
“Nakashoot naman ako ng isa sa kanya, siguro, yung last na yun, ginawa ko na lang yung best ko para kung ano man yung kaya kong gawin,” said Sangalang.
Sangalang entered the Philippine Cup Finals with a role heavier than his rookie season in 2013-14 when Marc Pingris, James Yap, Joe Devance and Mark Barroca had to make the heavy lifting in San Mig Super Coffee’s historic grand slam season.
Sangalang also had to overcome an ACL injury in his sophomore season to slowly become of the league’s rising stars. But the season-ending ACL injury Marc Pingris forced Sangalang to step up his game even higher.
That challenge includes making things tougher for Fajardo, who at the early goings of Game 1 was playing his usual dominance until the Beermen underwent a major collapse after leading by 20 in the third quarter.
“Siguro tinithink ko na lang na sarili ko na kaya ko, lalaban ako kahit anong mangyari kasi nasa finals na kami. Kasi bihira ngang makarating sa finals, so kahit sinong babantayan ko dyan, lalagay ko sa isip ko na kaya ko,” said Sangalang.
Fajardo praised Sangalang for a job well done, though the San Miguel gentle giant is expected to be too motivated to redeem himself against his counterpart.
“Magaling ginawa ni Ian. Nakailang offensive rebounds din siya,” Fajardo said.
Magnolia and San Miguel were playing at presstime at the Mall of Asia Arena, with Sangalang aiming to play another vital part in the Hotshots’ quest to double their lead in the championship series.
Game 3 of the Finals resumes this Sunday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum as the league takes a long break in observance of the Holy Week.