Inside track for Alaska in fight for No. 2
After languishing near the bottom of the 12-team field, Alaska Milk and Star pulled off emphatic victories last week to climb into a tie for No. 2 behind defending champion San Miguel Beer going into the final double header of the PBA Philippine Cup eliminations.
The Alaska Aces, seeking redemption after blowing a 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven title series against the Beermen last year, moved into contention for the second twice-to-beat privilege by whipping Phoenix, 106-85, after earlier quashing the quarterfinal hopes of Mahindra, 107-91.
The Star Hotshots were just as unforgiving in crushing also-ran Meralco, 120-73, after denying Blackwater an outright spot among the top eight qualifiers with a 111-95 decision.
The 47-point win over the Bolts was the most lopsided this season, erasing the 43-point rout the Hotshots also posted when they destroyed the Phoenix Fuel Masters, 123-79, last Dec. 10.
With SMB foiling the TNT KaTropa in their own bid for the No. 2 slot last Saturday, Alaska and Star rose to 6-4 behind the runaway 10-1 win-loss card of the Beermen going into the league’s last playing date on Wednesday.
And here’s the catch.
If the Aces and Hotshots end up tied for second, Alaska will clinch the No. 2 slot under the winner-over-the other rule, having nipped Star in overtime in their first meeting, 97-90, last Jan. 11.
The KaTropa came within two minutes of pinning what would have been only the second loss on SMB after the Beermen’s misadventure against Phoenix last Nov. 30, but Alex Cabagnot hit a triple with 26.7 seconds left to break the 94-94 tie forged by June Mar Fajardo with back-to-back layups.
With the KaTropa completely losing their touch from the quartercourt after opening the last quarter with four straight triples en route to a 95-90 lead, Arwind Santos completed the 98-94 SMB escape with a free throw in the final 12.2 seconds.
Against Rain or Shine last Jan. 13, Cabagnot also sank a long jumper in the dying seconds to force overtime with the Beermen eventually pulling through, 107-101.
The loss left the KaTropa with a final 6-5 slate like the Fuel Masters with both teams assured of quarterfinal slots.
GlobalPort also made it to the quarterfinals Sunday at 6-5 after a 117-99 rout of Rain or Shine which blew its slim chance of contending for No. 2 at 5-5.
The Hotshots seem to have the easier task in their quest for the vital seventh win since they have the eliminated Mahindra Floodbuster as opponent on Wednesday while the Aces will be contending against the Elasto Painters in the other half of the day’s twinbill.
But Mahindra, despite its third worst slate of 3-7, is definitely no pushover. And the Floodbuster go into their date with the Hotshots inspired by their 106-96 win last Friday over the NLEX Warriors, who are in the cellar at 2-8.
A confrontation to watch is the Ellein Maliksi-Alex Mallari duel. Maliksi, who has taken over the old role of former Star hotshot James Yap, exploded for 25 points in just 20 minutes against Meralco. Mallari, a former Star substitute himself, scattered 30 points while missing a near triple double with 10 rebounds and nine assists when Mahindra downed NLEX.
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