STARTING out hot and reaching boiling point near the end, Alaska Milk didn’t take any chances and ripped Meralco, 88-70, for a 2-0 sweep of the Bolts at Smart Araneta Coliseum and a Final Four seat in the PBA Philippine Cup.
Rookie Calvin Abueva was the Aces’ energizer, and the veteran Cyrus Baguio the team’s biggest finisher as Alaska booked a semifinal appearance for the first time since the Aces won the 2010 Fiesta Cup with Diamon Simpson in tow.
And that means a best-of-seven clash with powerhouse defending champion Talk ‘N Text starting Thursday at Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay.
This is also the first time that the Aces have gone this deep in a tournament ever since the multi-titled Tim Cone orphaned the squad a year after that Fiesta Cup conquest.
“I don’t want to take anything away from us, but Meralco was a tired team,” Alaska coach Luigi Trillo told reporters after recording his personal milestone. Trillo had won just three games in his first conference, last season’s Governors’ Cup.
“It’s a dream come true for me,” continued the young mentor, Alaska’s second head coach after Cone left with Joel Banal being the first. “If you’re facing a coaching staff like (what) Meralco (has), I never expected that it would be like this.”
JV Casio was also splendid, canning all of his 17 points in the first three periods as the Aces took leads of as many as 17 to keep the Bolts at bay all night. Casio also issued a team-high eight assists and had five rebounds.
The Aces opened up with a 22-7 lead in the first seven minutes and never looked back, playing with complete command against a Meralco side that took a semifinal tumble for the fourth time in the last seven conferences.
Mark Cardona paced the Bolts, but the unorthodox scorer was never really able to assert himself offensively. Sol Mercado finished with 15 points despite playing hurt.
“They had three games in five days,” Trillo said of the Bolts. “I really feel that they lacked the energy and if they were 100%, I doubt if we could have played with the control that we had (tonight).
“But you have to take advantage of your opportunities.”
Abueva, the second overall choice in the Draft, was all over the floor, his fierce determination to be part of practically every play showing as he finished with 18 points, 12 rebounds and three monster blocks.
Baguio, meanwhile, was the go-to-guy every time the Bolts tried to creep closer.
“Maybe it was because we really wanted to make the semifinals,” the soft-spoken Baguio said in Filipino when asked of the solid effort the entire team came up with. “Our efforts have been repaid.
“Before the start of the conference, our goal has really been to make the championship,” added the creative slasher out of University of Santo Tomas, when asked if he liked their chances against the “three-peat-seeking” Tropang Texters.
The game was intense right from the beginning, with play being stopped several times due to scuffles involving several personalities, including Baguio and Abueva, who got entangled with Cliff Hodge several times.
Rain or Shine, the reigning Governors’ Cup champion, was still playing Barangay Ginebra at press time, with the Elasto Painters also seeking a sweep to advance opposite No. 2 San Mig Coffee.
ALASKA 88—Abueva 18, Baguio 18, Casio 17, Espinas 13, Jazul 8, Baracael 6, Hontiveros 5, Thoss 3, Dela Cruz 0, Belasco 0.
MERALCO 70—Cardona 18, Mercado 15, Hodge 11, Hugnatan 9, Ross 6, Salvacion 6, Reyes 4, Buenafe 1, Bulawan 0, Sharma 0.
Quarters: 26-16, 44-34, 70-55, 88-70