Beermen on guard
San Miguel Beer is flaunting the kind of game fitting for a pretournament favorite seeking to rewrite PBA history by winning a fourth straight Philippine Cup crown.
In contrast, another fancied side, NLEX, is having all sorts of problems—the Road Warriors just don’t have time to dwell on them.
“Even if we are facing a powerhouse, this is the game where we hope to bounce back,” NLEX coach Yeng Guiao said over the phone after getting his Road Warriors ready for their 7 p.m. clash with the Beermen at Cuneta Astrodome in Pasay on Friday. “We corrected our mistakes in the past practices, and I think my players responded.”
The Beermen are the only unbeaten team left in the field, but coach Leo Austria is wary of the enemy’s capabilities in their search for win No. 4.
“We know that NLEX will come out hard, coming off two straight losses,” Austria explained also after practice, where he emphasized the need to stay focused. “We prepare hard for every team, because we know every team out there wants to take us down.”
Both coaches agreed on one thing, though: NLEX rookie Kiefer Ravena will come into the contest fresh from upping the yardstick that all tyros will be measured with this season.
Guiao, however, is asking something different from his team.
“They (Road Warriors) cannot just watch him,” Guiao said after Ravena carried NLEX on his shoulders on the way to 31 points even if Magnolia’s defenses were trained on him all game last week. “The kid’s really good but you don’t want your entire campaign hinging on a rookie.
“We simply cannot be over-reliant on Kiefer and cannot depend on one player to carry us through, that’s not our style.”
Austria said he was in awe seeing Ravena do damage on the star-studded Hotshots. His entire team also saw all of this, and it brings him some sort of confidence.
“They feel challenged,” Austria said, when asked on whom he will throw at Ravena. “They all feel that he is not a rookie. Ravena is playing like a superstar veteran at this point and that has challenged my players.”
Guiao, meanwhile, is particularly concerned on stopping one man at San Miguel and correcting a worrying statistic.
“We have been outrebounded in our last two games. This game is urgent because of June Mar (Fajardo) and I emphasized that to the team,” Guiao said. “We practiced hard to reestablish our boxing-out instincts, our rebounding instincts. We hope to bring that back.”
“Yes, June Mar will be their problem,” Austria conceded, with no one man in the league able to stop his 6-foot-10 cornerstone. “But the entire team is always ready to step up, that’s the beauty of [this] San Miguel [team].”