Austria ‘really worried’ about TNT with addition of Cruz
Touted as top contenders before the season started, San Miguel and TNT are set to face each other early in the playoffs when they clash in the 2018 PBA Philippine Cup quarterfinals.
As expected, the Beermen finished the elimination round on top while the KaTropa had to play a pair of knockout games just to make the playoffs as the eighth seed.
Though, San Miguel is facing a TNT side that barely made the next round, coach Leo Austria knows that getting past the KaTropa won’t be easy.
“They’ve always been in the semifinals and we know how strong this team is. TNT is a championship-caliber team,” admitted Austria, who was in attendance at Araneta Coliseum when TNT crushed Phoenix, 118-97, in a knockout for the last playoff spot on Sunday night.
Foes as talented and experienced as the KaTropa don’t usually slide much further down the standings and an SMB-TNT matchup in the playoffs often happens from the semifinals onwards.
But that’s the reality San Miguel will have to face as it begins what is shaping to be a tough journey to a fourth straight all-Filipino championship.
“I told them that the time will come when we’ll face our fellow contenders. But it just so happened that it came early with TNT placing eighth,” he said. “We’ll still treat this as a championship series.”
Luckily for the Beermen, they have a twice-to-beat advantage in the quarterfinals. Though, it would be best if San Miguel disposes of TNT right away on Tuesday.
Austria believes TNT will be different from the team San Miguel beat, 88-76, in Iloilo two months ago.
And a big reason for that is the addition of his former player in college Jericho Cruz, who was acquired by TNT in a trade with Rain or Shine late last month.
“With Jericho Cruz, their bench got deeper. Jericho is one of the key players in any team, so for TNT to have him, Jayson Castrom and Troy Rosario, I’m really worried about this team. I think this will be a tough assignment for us,” said Austria, who coached Cruz at Adamson.
But Austria remains confident knowing that the Beermen, more often than not, rise to the occasion especially come playoff time.
“Whenever we’re facing strong teams, our team rises to the challenge. I hope that the pride of the players will prevail and not let us down,” he said. “My team has proven itself to step up when it matters the most. I hope that it happens again in this game.”
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.