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Leo Austria busts four myths from San Miguel’s forgettable conference



Expectations were lofty for the newly-crowned PBA Philippine Cup champions, San Miguel Beermen, when they entered the season’s Commissioner’s Cup. However, the campaign did not go the way it was ought to be played, and the Beermen suffered four straight losses. Hopes immediately dimmed, and even with the arrival of prolific scorer, Arizona Reid, as the squad’s reinforcement, the Beermen could only do so much as it bowed out with a 4-7 record.

A cloud of uncertainty surrounded the team, while speculations (and a handful of unsolicited advice) surfaced left and right: the team was overconfident, the team had a championship hangover, the team was this and that, head coach Leo Austria should be fired, trade this guy, trade that guy.

Although there is disappointment, Austria still congratulated the team for not giving up in spite of a roller-coaster ride this conference.

“I will congratulate them. We never gave up although it was a tough task for us to win by a big margin. I told them whatever happens sa scenario, we just want to end on a winning note,” Austria said after the Beermen conquered GlobalPort.

And, for the benefit of San Miguel fans and PBA followers in general as to what contributed to the Beermen’s demise, Austria provided the answers.

Myth #1: San Miguel had a “hangover” [READ: Championship Hangover by Adiel Sam de Jesus]tie5

Fine. They basked in the glory of winning the title of the most prestigious conference. They had victory parties, guestings, shootings for TV commercials, and a lot of extra-curricular activities.

What people don’t understand is that the Beermen had to return to practice right away as the Commissioner’s Cup was set to roll in about a week or two, but some members wanted to take a breather.

Being the father figure that he is, Austria let his wards take an extra (and well deserved) rest to spend time with their families back in their respective hometowns.

“First, yung conditioning namin, it showed sa first few games. It was so obvious na flat na flat kami. No energy. Wala sa focus. Parang nakalimutan ata maglaro. ‘Yung mga nangyari sa amin [this conference], lesson ito sa amin,” Austria said.

“I am sure for the third conference, wala kaming reason para mawalan ng energy because there is a lot of time to recharge and figure out ano ba talaga ang kulang sa amin. Teams keep winning because of their imports, and pagdating ng import namin [Ronald Roberts] out of shape pa ang team.”

Myth #2: The team became “overconfident”

SMB's Ronald Roberts

SMB’s Ronald Roberts

Austria told the Beermen right after winning the Philippine Cup title that they have a game soon, and they have to train.

However, a lot of the Beermen’s rotation players were injured at the start of the Commissioner’s Cup. In addition, Philippine Cup teams, which have been eliminated early, had the luxury of training right away for the next conference, and in the process build rapport with their imports.

Contrary to what people think, it was hard for Austria to bring confidence to the team at the start of the second conference.

“The team was out of shape and they were not inspired with the import [Roberts], although he isn’t bad. Ang mentality kasi ng mga team ay kapag magaling ang import, mai-inspire ka rin e,” he said.

“Three days before our first game, doon lang nakapag-ensayo si June Mar [Fajardo]. Si Arwind [Santos] bugbog rin ang katawan, hindi makapag-todo. I am trying to push them pero I am concerned with their physical condition, baka ma-injure. Lagi sila nasa rehabilitation room and even my rotation players, may nangyari sa kanila.”

“Mahirap talaga i-bring back yung confidence ng team. Players also wanted to go back to their loved ones to celebrate, and I don’t want to be KJ [Kill Joy],” he added. “Naglaro sila ng maayos sa Philippine Cup so deserving naman sila makakuha ng pahinga.”

Myth #3: June Mar Fajardo “underperformed”

Austria emphasized Fajardo’s role in the import-laden conference was not to be the go-to guy. It should have been the reinforcement’s role, but they failed to land an import with size who can take over.

They brought a prolific scorer in Reid nevertheless, and the Beermen were 4-3 with him.

“We were trying to catch up, but the other teams were also loading. Arwind and Alex [Cabagnot] were shooting bad from the field. Marcio [Lassiter] is not scoring in double digits. June Mar was not our go to guy because of bigger and quicker imports. In the Philippine Cup he was our advantage. If we have a 6-foot-9 import, then our advantage would be him and June Mar. AZ [Reid] brings confidence to the team, but ang pinag-uusapan kasi natin is how to get to the quarterfinals.”

Myth #4: It’s all downhill for the Beermenpba17

Nah. Ask AZ Reid [READ: Defiant Reid vows: ‘If we start 0-4 next conference, send me home’].

The Beermen will have a month to prepare for the season-ending Governors’ Cup, and Austria hopes the team will pick up valuable lessons from the Commissioner’s Cup.

“Natuto na kami. And there is no reason for us na sabihing we are not in shape or not prepared.”

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



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



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



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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Frustrated Jared Dillinger admits ‘he’s getting sick’ of Meralco’s bad PH Cup runs



It’s no secret that the Meralco Bolts have struggled in the Philippine Cup for the last three years. During the last two seasons, the eight-year-old franchise’s win-loss tally is four wins and 18 losses.

And in the 2018 edition, the narrative has been the same, with little to no hope of it turning the other way around.

The Bolts bowed to the TNT Katropa, 99-81, Sunday night — their third straight defeat after winning over Blackwater Elite in their opener last December. If things continue as they are, it looks like another poor all-Filipino tilt run is looming.

“We’re 1-3 and there’s nothing to be happy about,” said Jared Dillinger, who had 14 points and five caroms in the match at Ynares Center in Antipolo. “It’s a long season though… We [shouldn’t] panic but it’s not fun right now.

“The Philippine Cup has been our Achilles heel and every damn Philippine Cup we get our ass kicked. I’m getting sick of it.”

In this game, Meralco missed the services of top forwards Ranidel De Ocampo and Cliff Hodge due to injuries. But for Dillinger, those issues shouldn’t be excuses.

“When you get two guys like Ranidel and Cliff out, as a team, that’s the opportunity for the guys below them to step up,” asserted Dillinger, who has been with the franchise since 2013.

“It doesn’t have to mean scoring, getting the assists or rebound, it’s just making the right play, being smart.”

Asked what went wrong in this particular loss versus their sister team, where they shot just 39.2 percent from the floor and had committed 17 turnovers, the 10-year veteran lamented the poor effort that the Bolts put up.

“TNT didn’t do anything much, given that they played well. But they didn’t have any secret schemes against us. They just passed the ball around, and they got open shots,” added the 10-year pro, as TNT made 23 assists and shot 18 triples.

“Our effort wasn’t there. We got to put up the intensity cause it sucks right now.”

Meralco have a chance to end their slump against the Kia Picanto this Wednesday. Dillinger sees it as a do-or-die affair, warning that it will be a grind-out affair knowing that the Picanto is coming off a skid-ending win over Rain or Shine.

Do-or-die ’cause that’s gonna be a playoff game. Thank God they beat Rain or Shine ’cause you don’t want to be that one team that gives the win to a 0-16 [team]. You don’t want to play teams like that,” stressed the all-around forward.

“Nothing to take away from Kia though. It’s gonna be tough.”

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