MANILA–Alaska puts the only unbeaten record of the young season on the line against dangerous Air21 today in the eliminations of the PBA Philippine Cup at the Cuneta Astrodome.
Coach Tim Cone said his Aces have been somewhat lucky to be at 3-0, but in their 7:30 p.m. clash with the Express, Alaska hopes to get it together and keep the solo lead.
Idle Talk ‘N Text, after steamrolling its way past three foes, suffered its first setback two nights ago, going down to
Rain or Shine, 93-95, after Sol Mercado hit a jumper with 1.5 seconds remaining in the game. That defeat left the Aces alone on top.
The Barangay Ginebra Gin Kings and the Red Bull Energy Boosters clash in the 5 p.m. contest with both squads coming off losses.
Ginebra absorbed the tougher one—a stinging 68-69 defeat at the hands of sister squad San Miguel Beer last week.
Ginebra has been struggling because its old reliables have also been trying to wriggle free from the cobwebs spun by a long layoff.
In the loss to San Miguel, former MVP Jay-Jay Helterbrand was good for just two points while Mark Caguioa was held to only eight.
Former two-time MVP Willie Miller has been coach Jong Uichico’s most consistent offensive option, though the 6-foot guard was the goat in the San Miguel loss after he dribbled off his foot in the final Ginebra offensive.
Ginebra has also gotten very little from its big men, with Ranidel de Ocampo failing to dominate inside and undersized power forward Rudy Hatfield finding life tough in the land of the giants.
Junel Baculi and his Energy Boosters are hoping to post a second upset win against the Kings, who could still be demoralized after blowing a commanding first-half lead in losing to the Beermen.
Undrafted rookie Hans Thiele has been the revelation for the Boosters, with the former University of the East ace in the UAAP averaging 11 points and as many rebounds after his first three games as a pro.
Barako Bull’s first and only victim is newcomer Meralco. That result doomed the Bolts to a string of three straight losses.
LA Tenorio, Cyrus Baguio and the vastly improved Joe Devance will lead the Aces, second placers to Derby Ace in the same tournament last season.
Devance won Player of the Game honors in all of Alaska’s wins, averaging a staggering 24.5 points and 9.5 rebounds.
Top Draft picks Nonoy Baclao and Rabeh Al-Hussaini will banner the Air21 challenge as the Express seek a followup to a 77-69 victory over defending champion Derby Ace just last Wednesday.
The second of Air21’s two losses came from a buzzer-beating triple by Jeff Chan for Rain or Shine, which prevailed, 89-86.
Al-Hussaini has been solid for the Express, who are awaiting a breakout game from Baclao, the surprise top draft pick.
Ronjay Buenafe has so far stood out to be the best among Air21’s guards, shooting 21 points in the conquest of Derby Ace. Photo by Mark Giongco