MANILA, Philippines—Cagayan Valley head coach Alvin Pua knew Blackwater’s success lies in the hands of its point guard Jeric Fortuna.
The Rising Suns clamped down on Fortuna to shut down the Elite, 91-76, Tuesday in Game 1 of their PBA D-League Aspirants Cup best-of-three semifinals series at the Ynares Sports Arena in Pasig City.
“I have the highest respect for Fortuna,” said Pua.
True enough, Cagayan made a concerted effort to hound Fortuna from the get-go.
The result: Fortuna, the University of Santo Tomas stalwart, scored just five points on one-of-10 shooting from the field.
Aside from their stifling defense, the Suns, who beat Cebuana Lhuillier in the quarterfinals, also drew big games from James Forrester, Raymond Almazan and Eliud Poligrates.
Forrester pumped in 18 of his game-high 25 points in the first half, 13 in the second quarter, where Cagayan turned a four-point deficit to a six-point halftime lead as it outscored Blackwater, 31-21.
Almazan flirted with a 20-20 game with 18 points and 17 rebounds, nine of which came at the offensive, to go along with two blocks while Poligrates put on another dazzling show to highlight his 16-point, six-assist effort.
“After going 0-9 last conference, we’re now a win away from going into the Finals. Nandito na kami sayang naman kung pababayaan pa namin,” said Pua.
Cagayan started to pull away in the third period and never looked back.
The Suns held the Elite to without a field goal in the first six minutes of the fourth quarter to build a 17-point lead, 83-66, on a layup by Poligrates, who crossed up Allan Mangahas to the delight of the crowd.
Kevin Ferrer had a quiet 14 points, eight of which came when the game was already decided, to lead Blackwater.
Forrester, who highlighted his big night with a two-handed 360 dunk on a breakaway, went four-of-six from long range.