By Olmin Leyba
DON’T sound the final buzzer yet for Alaska Milk.
With firm resolve, the seventh-seeded Aces hacked out a huge 93-79 victory over No. 2 NLEX on Wednesday to extend the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) Governors’ Cup quarterfinal duel — and their emotional farewell tour — to a sudden-death game.
To loud cheers from the Alaska faithful at the Smart Araneta Coliseum, the Aces charged back from an early 16-point deficit and did everything needed to prevail and stave off elimination against their twice-to-beat opponents.
From new import Mark Saint Fort to young star Jeron Teng to backup Mike Tolomia and Yousef Taha, coach Jeff Cariaso’s team put up a spirited performance to put itself in position to go all the way to the Final Four with a repeat against NLEX in Saturday’s do-or-die.
Mr. Saint Fort, who arrived four days ago to replace the injury-hampered Olu Ashaolu, debuted with 17 points and 14 rebounds and got enough support from the local crew. Mr. Teng scored 16 with six boards while Abu Tratter had a 12-10 double-double, Mr. Tolomia chipped in 10, and Mr. Taha had 12 rebounds on top of nine points.
“We didn’t want it to be our last game. What makes it harder is compared to the announcement (of Alaska’s PBA departure a month ago), we’re kinda closer to possibly seeing the end,” said Mr. Cariaso.
“That in itself is a challenge and a motivation so we tried to use that to motivate us even more, to focus even more and play together even more.”
Cameron Clark accounted for 25 markers and 16 boards in his maiden appearance for NLEX in lieu of KJ McDaniels.
Mr. Clark banged in 10 in the first quarter as he led NLEX’s hot 55% clip that keyed their breakaway to a 26-12 tear.
Their season under siege, the Aces cranked it defensively up in the second, holding NLEX to a 14.3% shooting, and turned things around with a 28-12 exchange en route to a 40-38 upperhand.
After the break, it was Mike Tolomia’s turn to step into the plate. Mr. Tolomia fired 10 on a 2-of-2 marksmanship from deep as Alaska wrested a 64-52 tear and went into the final canto on top by nine. The Aces didn’t relinquish control.
“Our mental approach on how we’re trying to play early was focused on the offense so sabi namin, we have to go back to our defense, understanding our defensive schemes and be more physical. When we became more physical defensively, we were moving our feet better and not giving up easy fouls, that allowed our offense to transition for it to be a little bit easier,” said Mr. Cariaso.
Alaska 93 – Saint Fort 17, Teng 16, Tratter 12, Tolomia 10, DiGregorio 9, Taha 9, Ahanmisi 6, Bulanadi 5, Ilagan 3, Racal 3, Faundo 3, Stockton 0, Adamos 0
NLEX 79 – Clark 25, Alas 17, Trollano 12, Rosales 7, Paniamogan 5, Quinahan 4, Nieto 3, Chua 2, Ighalo 2, Soyud 2, Miranda 0, Varilla 0
Quarterscores: 12-26, 40-38, 64-55, 93-79