Phoenix Pulse banked on its defensive might to rout Alaska, 94-80, and book a playoff berth in the PBA Philippine Cup on Friday at Mall of Asia Arena.
Calvin Abueva tormented his former team, posting 21 points and 16 rebounds even as Matthew Wright chimed in with 20 points and three assists to help the Fuel Masters grab a share of the tournament lead with their seventh win in eight games.
“Big break because we faced a depleted team,” said coach Louie Alas. “But still, I give credit to my guys. They were exhausted from the last game and yet they pressured. We were able to expand our lead in the third because of that.”
Phoenix’s leech-like defense helped their lead swell to as many as 26 in the final frame.
Alaska, which was missing several key players—including star big man Vic Manuel, relied on Jeron Teng and Carl Bryan Cruz, who accounted for 23 and 10 points, respectively.
RJ Jazul and Justine Chua combined for 29 to push the Fuel Masters alongside Rain or Shine on top—but Alas knows the road will only get rockier from hereon.
“This is only formalizes our entry [to the quarterfinals]. We are now aiming for the top two spots to prepare us for the semifinals,” he said.
Phoenix is now bracing for its final stretch of elimination round, where it will face the champions of all three tournaments last season—San Miguel Beer, Barangay Ginebra and Magnolia.
The Fuel Masters will kick off that killer stretch with a showdown against the Governors’ Cup champion Hotshots on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, Blackwater leaned on brilliant offensive performances from Allein Maliksi and Mac Belo to breathe life into their playoff bid and trip Columbian, 106-100, earlier in the day.
“We were able to execute the game plan we’ve been practicing for weeks,” Ramos said. “My players really wanted to win.”
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