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Is this the Last Stand?

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The night was supposed to be a final opportunity to celebrate Gilas Pilipinas before they embark for international warfare. Coined as the Last Home Stand, the event instead left thousands of supporters inside the Smart Araneta Coliseum feeling stood up.

Before anything else, think about this reality for a moment. By no fault of their own, Gilas Pilipinas will indelibly remember one thing as they walked off the court that evening, hearing an avalanche of boos raining down from the patron seats to the nosebleed section as they headed into the dugout. They never wanted any of this bizarre sequence of events to take place. No one did. But they were collateral damage of an evening gone wrong for a myriad of reasons.

We can go on and on about the logistical and legal brouhahas that took place. But the sentimental side in me wonders how much of an emotional toll this will take on our players. Yes, they are grown men and professionals, but they are our national team, wearing our country’s colors with pride and honor. Deep down, feelings were hurt, and that might have a residual effect when they head off to Spain a month from now.

Now, you might be telling yourself, “Wait a minute! These guys just played side by side with some of the greatest athletes the sport has to offer! There’s no way they would be on the losing end of this farce! I’d give an arm and a leg (ok, maybe not that much) just to play with Kawhi Leonard and Damian Lillard! Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard!”

But that’s where our opinions part ways. See, that’s not the point. What I am trying to get at is that this was everyone’s last chance to scream ourselves hoarse for our team. That’s right. Our team. We are segregated by our UAAP and NCAA alma maters, as well as our PBA and NBA fandoms. But our national team bonds us as a unified whole. And we couldn’t overlook past the shortcomings beyond Gilas Pilipinas’ control to give them this one night.

Paul Lee deserved a lot more love, especially after his heroic bronze-sealing free throws against China in the FIBA Asia Cup. Marc Pingris, beloved by many for his unrelenting hustle against South Korea, could have used the morale boost. The same goes for Jimmy Alapag and Gary David, the elder statesmen on the squad who are out to prove that they are far from washed up.

It is easy to play the blame game. East West Private Holdings, the organizing body who failed to secure the necessary permits to sanction an actual basketball match from the NBA, deserves all the criticism hurled towards it. I know the boos last night were meant for the organizers. But for the players who are on the court, they do not have the luxury to differentiate who the heckling is directed towards. Heck, they have to spend so much focus just to keep their eye on the ball.

There is a tone of dismay towards the NBA guests who were raring to put on a show. On his third trip here in Manila, James Harden was definitely not expecting such a negative reaction after an outpouring of adulation in his first two visits. At least, you know the players tried to please the crowd even in their limited capacity. A special shoutout goes to 2013 Slam Dunk Contest Champion Terrence Ross, who was really testing the furthest limits of his collective bargaining agreement contract with all the high-wire acts he displayed out there.

Unlike many fair-weathered viewers who walked out right from the start, my friends and I soldiered on to the finish, even moving several rows forward to catch a better glimpse of the action. For the fans who stayed until the bitter end (and did not boo), know that your presence did not go to waste. For all intents and purposes, Gilas Pilipinas was expecting to get the road team treatment next month, not last night.

Yes, you spent a couple of hours that you will never get back. I can’t argue with that. But you will get a refund as promised. So you didn’t spend P23,300 to see the most expensive practice session drills that will soon be listed in the annals of the Guinness Records.

Unfortunately, some things cannot be taken back. Those jeers cannot be recalled into their owners’ voiceboxes. If we could only do it all over again, we should have given Gilas Pilipinas a standing ovation one more time. One last hurrah, before they head to the land of our conquerors.

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Mixed Martial Arts

Rene Catalan continues rampage with TKO win

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Rene Catalan continues to turn critics into believers

Filipino fighter Rene Catalan made his sixth appearance inside the ONE Championship cage at ONE: Kings of Courage, held at the Jakarta Convention Center in Indonesia, Saturday evening. He faced 21-year-old Chinese athlete Peng Xue Wen in the opening main card bout, and leaned on his elite wushu skills to stop the young star at the 4:22 mark of the second round.

The victory improves Catalan’s record to 4-2 (1 NC), extends his winning streak to four, and gives him the first TKO stoppage of his martial arts career, as he bids to climb the strawweight ladder in search of the ONE Strawweight World Championship.

“The Challenger” came out in the southpaw stance to open the bout, throwing big hooks and a head kick that narrowly missed as he established the center of the cage from the start of the contest.

The Filipino landed a host of powerful strikes, including a perfectly-placed uppercut and a melee of punishing leg kicks, but Peng’s conditioning and composure kept him in the match as he looked to stand and trade with the man 18 years his elder.

Catalan picked up where he left off when the bout resumed in the second round, this time operating out of the orthodox stance, landing more leg kicks and continuing to deny Peng any space to work.

Despite his dominance on the feet, there was a brief moment of concern for the Filipino on the mat when he jumped into the Chinese wrestler’s guard mid-way through the second round, and immediately found himself in a triangle choke. But the Filipino kept his composure and managed to work himself free.

Once the fighters returned to their feet, Catalan poured on the pressure in search of a finish, and he got it with just 38 seconds remaining in the stanza.

“The Challenger” scored big with a liver shot, then unloaded a fierce flurry of punches that forced Peng onto his back foot. Another shot forced Peng to the mat, where a salvo of ground and pound from Catalan eventually forced the TKO stoppage as referee Olivier Coste stepped in to halt the contest.

Photo, story, and video from ONE Championship

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Basketball

Gelo Alolino regrets Phoenix’s failure to close out Hotshots

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Photo by PBA Images

Gelo Alolino had his best game for the Phoenix Fuel Masters on Saturday night at the Cuneta Astrodome with 19 points, eclipsing his previous career-high of 16 markers which he made last May 21, 2017 in a loss to the Mahindra Floodbuster.

But his achievement won’t be too memorable, as it went for naught following a 91-97 defeat at the hands of Paul Lee and the Magnolia Hotshots, who have now collected their third straight victory.

For the second overall pick in the regular 2016 Rookie Draft, it was all because of their failure to sustain momentum up until the game’s final buzzer.

“Sayang, nandun na. We felt na sa amin na nung dulo kaso lang ganun talaga,” rued the 24-year-old sophomore after the match, where he shot an excellent 7-of-10 from the floor.

“Breaks of the game napunta sa kabila.”

Phoenix were in contention all throughout the match. In fact, they were even ahead, 89-84, with just three minutes left to play. But the Hotshots’ comeback skills were unleashed, leading to the narrow win.

“Siyempre kami lahat nasayangan. Maganda naman yung team effort talaga namin,” admitted the 6-foot floor general of their end-game collapse, which wasted their efforts in assists (21) and on defense, where they forced Magnolia to 21 turnovers.

“Kami as players talagang gusto namin bumawi coming from a loss last game sa Rain or Shine.

The Fuel Masters have now lost their second straight outing and have dropped to 2-3. And for Alolino, all they have to do is learn as much as they can from this loss, especially now that they are about to face the Barangay Ginebra San Miguel next.

“Yun nga. Medyo masakit para sa’min ‘to,” admitted the National University product.

“All we have to do is magviview ulit kami ng tape para makita kung saan kami mas pwede mag-improve as a team and bawat isa — including me.”

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Basketball

Glenn Khobuntin repays Ricky Dandan’s trust with end-game heroics

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FILE Photo from PBA Images

Glenn Khobuntin can finally say that he had himself a moment in the pro ranks

The National University alumnus proved his worth for the Kia Picanto, scoring his team’s final six points to steer the often-ridiculed club to their first win after a historic 16-game skid, at the expense of the Rain or Shine Elasto Painters, 98-94.

“I knew he would. I knew he would,” lauded Kia head coach Ricky Dandan of the takeover by the six-foot-four forward.

“It was a blessing he didn’t play for the first two quarters because he [came in] fresh at gigil na gigil.”

Khobuntin finished with 11 markers on 5-of-7 shooting — the best game he’s had so far, not because of the numbers he posted but with the way he made them. But the three-year pro does not want to take the spotlight all onto himself.

“Hindi lang din naman ako e, kami ding lahat e,” the 26-year-old shared. “Siguro kumbaga nagka-opportunity lang, napunta sa akin yung bola kasi yun yung nasa scheme ng play so ayun.

“Thankful lang ako na-hit ko yung mga na-design na plays.”

However, the third-year pro admitted that he had been frightened during the game’s final stretch, as Rain or Shine managed to impose a serious threat by coming back from a seven-point deficit, 94-96, with just less than 22 ticks left to play.

“Kinakabahan ako kasi two minutes pa rin yun e tapos Rain or Shine yung kalaban namin,” the native of Cagayan de Oro said. “Nakita ko nakakabalik sila. Thankful lang naman ako na yung game napunta sa amin, at least natapos yung losing streak namin.”

But more than the end of their months-long slump, what Khobuntin is grateful for is the trust given to him by Dandan, who fielded him as a starter in the second half after sitting out the entirety of the first 24 minutes.

“Nag-decide siya na ako yung i-start niya so thankful ako kasi nagtiwala siya sa akin.”

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ABL

Justin Brownlee, Alab lock down Knights for fifth win

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Paying a visit to Indonesia for the first time this season, Tanduay Alab Pilipinas needed time to figure the CLS Knights out before stifling the hosts in the final frame to take a 92-87 road win, Saturday evening at the GOR CLS Kertajaya in Indonesia.

This is Alab’s second straight win after losing to the Singapore Slingers last January 10.

With the win, the Philippine-based club team lifts its slate to 5-4 for solo fourth. CLS, on the other hand, dropped to 1-7 — just half a game ahead of the cellar-dwelling Formosa Dreamers.

Justin Brownlee displayed his all-around brilliance in the game, leading Alab with 36 points on 15-for-24 shooting to go along with eight rebounds, seven assists, and three steals.

But Alab’s bench could not sustain the effort of the starters, which meant the team was clinging to a two-point lead with 7:06 remaining.

Needing a spark, 40-year-old sniper Dondon Hontiveros provided for Alab, knocking down a triple that proved to be the starting point 14-2 Alab run. A jumper by Bobby Ray Parks, Jr. with 2:57 left capped the rally and gave Alab an 87-73 lead.

Hontiveros scored five of the eight Alab bench points. Fortunately for Alab, Renaldo Balkman and Bobby Ray Parks, Jr. were on point. The former tallying a double-double with 17 points and 13 rebounds, while Alab’s skipper had 14 points, four assists, two rebounds, two steals, and two blocks.

Coach Jimmy Alapag fielded his bench afterwards, but they let the quintet of Brian Williams, Mario Wuysang, Arif Hidayat, Decorey Jones, and Sandy Kurniawan slice the lead to as low as four points. Then free throws by Oping Sumalinog with eight ticks left put CLS away for good.

Williams paced CLS with 22 points and 14 rebounds while Kurniawan added 19 markers. Indonesian legend Wuysang had 17 points and six rebounds in the loss.

Alab ends its road trip on Sunday, January 28, when it takes on the Saigon Heat at the CIS Arena in Ho Chi Minh City.

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