Improved defense key to San Mig turnaround

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AS SAN Miguel Beer finally lives up to its billing, coach Leo Austria paid tribute to the improved defense by the local players in the Asean Basketball League (ABL).

The Beermen, who made an erratic start to the season, clawed their way back to the top following five straight victories that came despite the team’s import woes the past weeks.

“Good defense is the key to a good offense,” said Austria. “That has been the key for us in breaking the win-loss pattern and that will be the key to winning more games in the tournament.”

The Beermen held their opponents below 60 points in four of their last five triumphs even as injuries sidelined American big man Brian Williams and the explosive Gabe Freeman in succession.

With their latest victory over Saigon Heat, 80-55, last Sunday, the Beermen grabbed a share of the lead at 8-3 with defending champion Indonesia Warriors.

“The focus might have been the change of imports in the past few games, but if you look closely, it is mainly the locals embracing the defensive system I was trying to teach them,” said Austria.

Import Matt Rogers had a brief stint with the Beermen when a knee injury forced the reliable Williams to sit it out for two weeks.

But when Williams returned, Freeman strained his medial collateral ligament (MCL), forcing the Beermen, last year’s runner-up, to tap another reinforcement in Justin Williams.

Yet the changes hardly disrupted the Beermen’s rhythm with the leadership of Filipino-Italian guard Chris Banchero and key contributions of the locals like Asi Taulava, RJ Rizada and JR Cawaling.

The entry of Williams also helped the Beermen keep their streak going as the former PBA import averaged 6.5 blocks on top of nine points and and 11 rebounds a game.

“The team has been plugging holes in its defense and having Justin is timely because he is very defensive-minded,” said Austria. “In the paint, he will actually contest every shot.”

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