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Apreku, Luib repaying Letran coach’s trust with hardnosed play

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If there is one team that is ready to give their all out in the playing field despite carrying handicaps, it’s the Colegio de San Juan de Letran Knights that certainly fits the bill.

Entering the NCAA Season with little to no expectations, the Knights are quickly turning doubters into believers as they handed the seemingly unbeatable San Beda Red Lions, the league’s five-time defending champion, a destructive 93-80 loss last Thursday at the Filoil Flying V Arena. Their recent win also gives them an unblemished 3-0 record with their two other wins coming for the likes of the Mapua Cardinals and the JRU Heavy Bombers.

It was the usual suspects for the Knights as seniors Kevin Racal led the way with 20 hard-earned points, 8 rebounds and 3 assists while Mark Cruz was all over the place with 16 points, 7 rebounds, 7 assists and 3 steals.


Given the fancy stat lines, highlight reel drives and all, everyone knew that Letran won this game by thanks to the scrappy defense and “buwis buhay” basketball showcased by its two unsung players: Felix Apreku and McJour Luib.

In their win against San Beda, both players didn’t score that much but they made their presence felt through their constant crashing of the glass and and disruptive lockdown defense. Apreku chipped in 9 points and 7 rebounds while Luib had 6 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists and 2 steals.

“Parang championship ito kasi rival naman iyong team na iyan [San Beda]. Pinaghandaan namin ito ng matagal. Hindi kami nag-break,” Apreku told Tiebreaker Times when asked about his thoughts on the game. “Sa umpisa pa lang sabi ni Coach [Aldin Ayo] sa akin na malaki ang responsibilidad ng team na ito sa depensa. Parang magkakapatid kami kaya kapag tatakbo ang isa, tatakbo din lahat.”

Felix Apreku boxing out Ola Adeogun

Felix Apreku boxing out Ola Adeogun

Apreku’s defense was a big factor in bothering the Red Lions’ frontcourt tandem of Ola Adeogun and Art Dela Cruz. Dela Cruz may have had another huge double-double with 18 points and 14 rebounds, but it was hardly felt on the court as San Beda was forced to play catch-up for the whole game. Meanwhile, Adeogun had 20 points and 7 rebounds before fouling out of the game late in the fourth quarter.

“Sabi sa akin ni coach pahirapan ko at pagurin ko [si Dela Cruz]. Dapat siya ang mauna pagod kaysa sa akin,” added Apreku.

Former Squire McJour Luib pressuring San Beda's Ryusei Koga

Former Squire McJour Luib pressuring San Beda’s Ryusei Koga

On the other hand, Luib complemented Apreku’s defensive efforts by holding his own against San Beda’s talented backcourt. Luib’s pesky play was definitely felt by a lot of the San Beda guards as he held Ryusei Koga to 7 points on 25 percent shooting (2/8 from the field) and force him to have 7 turnovers. He also made the likes of Radge Tongco and Ice Reyes in becoming non-factors for the San Beda offense as the two guards finished the game with a combined stat line of 7 points on 18 percent shooting and 4 turnovers.

“Buti na lang [I had] less turnovers talaga at na-deliver namin ng maayos ang bola against sa trap nila,” Luib remarked. “Kinausap lang ako ni Coach Glenn Capacio at sinabihan niya ako na wag daw akong matakot [sa possibility na] magcommit ng turnovers kasi kapag natakot ako doon ako magkakaroon ng turnover. Inisip ko lang din na gawin ko lang ang pinapagawa ng mga coaches sa akin.”

“Siguro kasi lagi na lang kaming natatalo sa kanila. Tapos kapag natatalo nila kami minsan sobrang tambak kasi underdog kami. Malalaki sila [San Beda] at may imports sila kaya malaki sa amin ang panalo na ito. Sa start ng season 3-0 kami pero hindi pa dito nagtatapos.”

Showcasing this brand of chaotic yet stellar defensive effort since the NCAA season was officially opened, expect Letran to remain the defensive pest that they made themselves into. Their next game will be this coming Tuesday against the San Sebastian Golden Stags, 4:00 pm, at the Filoil Flying V Arena.

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Vic Manuel says Alaska yet to return to contender status

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Photo by PBA Images

Even if they have won their third straight game coming from a 0-2 start in the 2018 Philippine Cup, Vic Manuel thinks that it’s still not enough to tell that the Alaska Aces should be considered as one of the topflight teams in the league.

“Hindi pa rin masabi, kasi lahat ng team ngayon, talagang malalakas na eh, hindi na basta-basta easy yung mga game eh,” said “The Muscleman” Sunday night, after he and the Aces took down Barangay Ginebra, 97-83, at the Ynares Center.

The way the Aces have been playing this 2018 is remarkably different from the way they did last 2017, where they raked in more losses than wins. For Manuel, it’s partly because of the team regaining their competitive fire.

“Sa practice pa lang, talagang nakikipag-compete eh. Walang easy kahit sa practice, talagang bigay-todo lahat,” said the 30-year-old, who has been with Alaska since 2014.

“Sobrang aggressive, kaya yun, nadadala namin sa game.”

It also helps that the Milkmen have been healthy so far this season, unlike last year where they couldn’t even field a complete line-up in almost every outing. Manuel knows it too well, as he had been injury-plagued last season.

“Yung injury ko talaga, hindi madali eh, kasi sa tuhod talaga, sa left knee,” said the six-foot-four forward from Nueva Ecija. “So pinu-push nila ako kung ano ang kailangan ko gawin. Ayun, nagbubunga naman lahat.”

Now, eyes are on the Aces if they can keep this streak of theirs going. And for Manuel, who led the Aces with 18 points and five rebounds against the Gin Kings, all they need to do is to sustain what they have right now in their next games.

“Kailangan every game, focused pa rin kami, mas maging aggressive kami,” he said.

“Kung anong mga ginagawa namin nitong mga last three games namin, kailangan dalhin pa namin sa mga susunod naming games.”

Apologies to LA Tenorio

After the bout, Manuel had actually planned to approach Ginebra’s star point guard LA Tenorio regarding the spat they figured into late in the third quarter, after the former undercut the much bigger Manuel near the rim.

But Manuel made it clear that he wasn’t going after Tenorio to get back at him. All that he wanted to do was to apologize, as he found out that Tenorio was just trying to help him get back up and not trying to instigate something.

“Sabi niya, ‘bakit mo ako binigyan? Itatayo na nga kita eh.’ Nahiya din ako sa kanya. Magso-sorry sana ako, eh wala eh, lumayo na siya eh,” Manuel shared with a chuckle.

“Lalapitan ko sana eh, pero umalis agad.”

That incident was just one of the many things that frustrated Tenorio. Aside from absorbing their second straight loss, he couldn’t get things going, as he only scored five on a dismal 1-of-13 shooting from the floor.

“Magandang bonus din sa’min yun kasi medyo masama yung nilaro niya,” said Manuel.

“Swerte na lang siguro kami.”

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Calvin Abueva rejuvenated with return of physical play: ‘Masarap maglaro’

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Photo by PBA Images

For Calvin Abueva, it feels great to play in the PBA nowadays.

The Beast, who has always been known as one of the league’s most physical players since entering in 2012, was all praises for the way the officiating has changed this 43rd season — by just letting all the players play.

“Mas gumanda yung tawagan ngayon, naging physical nga. Naging exciting para sa mga tao, mas marami na nanonood ngayon eh,” said Abueva moments after their 97-83 victory over the Barangay Ginebra San Miguel, Sunday night.

As has been said many times, physicality had become something controlled over the last two years. Abueva knows it too well, having been a casualty, as he has paid a bevy of penalties during that time.

And now that it is a thing of the past, the 6-foot-2 bruiser feels much better, knowing that he can display his brand of basketball once more.

“Masarap maglaro, talagang pisikalan,” said the 29-year-old forward from Angeles, Pampanga. “Siyempre makikita naman natin kung sinasadya o hindi, basta katawan lang.

“Pisikal. Yun yung magandang laro di ba?”

Aside from the comeback of physicality, what makes Abueva beam even more is the way the Aces have been playing in the 2018 Philippine Cup. After a 0-2 start in the tourney, they have now booked their third straight win.

“Nung 2017 parang nilubog na namin yung losing streak namin doon. Ito 2018 na at panibagong destination na naman yung ina-ano namin,” said Abueva, who had nine points, nine rebounds, and five assists against Ginebra.

“Sustain muna namin ‘to… Sana magtuloy-tuloy ‘tong winning streak namin.”

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Alaska takes advantage of Greg Slaughter’s absence

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For the streaking Alaska Aces, their stunning 97-83 victory over the favored Barangay Ginebra San Miguel on Sunday night was partly made possible by the absence of one key player: seven-foot behemoth Greg Slaughter.

The 28-year-old center, who was averaging 20.67 points and 10.3 rebounds prior to Sunday, did not play against the Aces due to a hamstring injury. How he incurred the injury has yet to be determined.

“There’s a small person named Greg Slaughter who didn’t play; I think he has an impact on the game,” quipped coach Alex Compton after the match.

“[They missed] a guy who I think is gonna win an MVP soon in Greg Slaughter.

“Sometimes dito sa liga natin, you have to take advantage when opportunities come your way. You don’t want anybody to get hurt [though],” added Compton.

With Slaughter out of the way, the Aces’ big men feasted.

Vic Manuel top-billed with 18 points and five rebounds, and elder statesman Sonny Thoss turned back the clock with a 17-point, four-rebound outing.

“Malaking bonus na rin sa amin, kasi wala nga si Greg kaya nakuha namin yung panalo,” said Manuel.

“Yeah it definitely helped,” added the six-foot-seven Thoss, who shot 6-of-12 from the floor and made four of his freebies.

“He’s a big guy, he’s a big presence inside so it took one big guy off our shoulder.”

Slaughter was approached and asked by scribes regarding his injury, but he was not in the mood to comment. No one can blame him, though, since the Barangay have slipped to their second straight defeat after a 2-0 start.

“I’m always there in practice, going over our gameplans. But it’s better if you ask our PT,” he said.

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Alaska completes turnaround at Greg Slaughter-less Ginebra’s expense

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Photo by PBA Images

A strong second half surge was all the Alaska Aces needed to turn back the heavily-favored Barangay Ginebra San Miguel, 97-83, and book their third straight victory, Sunday night at the Ynares Center in Antipolo City.

The Aces, who have yet to lose this 2018, have now improved to 3-2. Meanwhile, the Barangay absorbed their second straight loss and have dropped to 2-2.

“I was telling the guys na parang ang dami nating iniisip, hindi natin ginagawa yung ginagawa natin noong nakaraang dalawang linggo. Sabi ko relax lang tayo,” said coach Alex Compton, sharing what he told his wards that sparked the win.

Vic Manuel led the Milkmen with 18 points and five rebounds. Sonny Thoss turned back the clock as he made 17 markers on 6-of-12 shooting, while Chris Banchero supplied 14 points, six assists, and five rebounds.

The Aces were trailing by eight, 36-44 at the half, but it became a different ball game come the third chapter as they outscored the Gin Kings, 37 to 19, to erect a favorable 73-63 cushion heading into the game’s final 12 minutes.

From there, Alaska kept their foot on the gas to sustain their lead, which grew to as much as 18, 85-67, after their 6-0 spree — punctuated by Banchero’s lay-up plus a foul — with 6:14 remaining in the final frame.

Ginebra still tried to make one last push as they inched within 10, 75-85, but baskets by Thoss and Kevin Racal propelled Alaska to an 89-75 lead with 3:42 left to play — more than enough to knock out their counterparts.

“I was glad to come away with the win,” added Compton. “Sometimes, we have to take advantage of opportunities coming your way. You don’t want anybody to get hurt but when two number one picks on the other team aren’t playing… There.”

Jvee Casio had 13 markers for Alaska, while Calvin Abueva nearly had a double-double of nine points and nine boards along with five assists in 20 minutes.

Aljon Mariano had 15 points, nine rebounds, and three dimes for Ginebra, who — despite having Sol Mercado back in the fold after ankle issues — missed the services of Joe Devance and Greg Slaughter due to injuries.

Japeth Aguilar, Scottie Thompson, and Kevin Ferrer each scored 12 for the Barangay, with Thompson adding five assists. The trio combined for 15 of Ginebra’s 43 rebounds.

Alaska will aim to extend their streak versus the Blackwater Elite on Saturday, January 27 at 4:30 PM, while Ginebra will look to end their slump against the Phoenix Fuel Masters on Friday, January 26 at 7:00 PM. Both games are at SMART Araneta Coliseum.

The Scores:

Alaska 97 — Manuel 18, Thoss 17, Banchero 14, Casio 13, Abueva 9, Teng 9, Cruz 5, Enciso 3, Potts 3, Exciminiano 2, Magat 2, Racal 2, J. Pascual 0.

Ginebra 83 — Mariano 15, J. Aguilar 12, Ferrer 12, Thompson 12, Caguioa 8, Cruz 8, R. Aguilar 5, Tenorio 5, Mercado 2, Taha 2, Wilson 2, Jamito 0.

Quarterscores: 26-23, 36-44, 73-63, 97-83.

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