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San Miguel marches onto the Finals; MVP Fajardo falls hard



The San Miguel Beermen are arguably this dominant team the past two years.

However, Friday evening, the defending Philippine Cup Champions might have lost the most dominant big man in this era as June Mar Fajardo was stretchered off the court. Nonetheless, the Beermen’s other MVP Arwind Santos stepped up as he helped his team maintain a fourth quarter lead en route to a 90-82 victory to eliminate the Rain or Shine Elasto Painters and set up a date with the Alaska Aces.

Entering this pivotal game the depleted Rain or Shine team did not have the services of Raymond Alamazan and Paul Lee due to injuries. In addition, Coach Yeng Guiao missed the entire first quarter due to traffic inconveniences. Despite SMB’s frontcourt duo of Arwind Santos and June Mar Fajardo already combining for 13 first quarter points, the surging Elasto painters took a three point, 19-16 lead after the first period.

San Miguel’s scoring slowed down in the first part of the next quarter, as their turnover numbers haunted them. On the other end, Gabe Norwood capped a 19-2 scoring spree to extend Rain or Shine’s biggest lead of the first half at 35-21. Notwithstanding a surprise 12-point half from the Painters’ Jewel Ponferada, Marcio Lassiter and Fajardo helped the Beermen slice the lead down to single digits at the end of the quarter.

San Miguel got momentum in the first part of the second half, tallying a 12-6 run to pull through within three. However, all were stunned as Fajardo fell down after a boxing out joust with Jireh Ibañez at the 7:11 mark. The MVP clinched onto his left knee and struggled to get up after the collision. Fajardo was stretchered afterwards and finished the night with 14 points and 12 rebounds in 25 minutes.

After losing their primary weapon, the Beermen continued their third quarter rampage behind three straight baskets by Gabby Espinas. A tidal wave of energy was injected to SMB after losing Fajardo, as they pounded on the rattled Rain or Shine squad. Their defense picked up and a three-point play by Lassiter sealed the strong period, giving them a 70-63 advantage.

Yancy De Ocampo played a productive stretch during the fourth period as SMB’s center on the floor. Six minutes into the final frame, the Beermen threatened to pull away for good, as they led 82-69 behind relentless attacks from Lassiter and Santos. In the next five minutes, Beau Belga anchored Rain or Shine for one last rally and their team managed to slice the advantage down to five. Fortunately for the defending champs, they would book the last finals seat in the Philippine Cup with key stops late, in addition to series-clinching free throws.

Arwind Santos carried the work in 45 minutes of playing time with 15 points and hauled down 19 rebounds. Lassiter added 22 points notwithstanding a horrid 1/9 shooting from downtown.

After the game, Santos opened up that the Fajardo injury woke up their team, but hopes to have their dominant big to play with them in the Finals. “Sa totoo lang nung na-injure siya di namin maitago na nag worry kami. Si June Mar MVP namin,” Santos shared. “Alam naman na unstoppable siya na sentro. Nakakapanghinayang. Kaya yung game na to para sa kanya. Sana makalaro siya sa Finals.”

As a team, the Beermen towered over the Elasto Painters with more rebounds, 59-49. Moreover, they ended up shooting 43% compared to Rain or Shine’s 35% clip.

Game One of the Finals between the San Miguel Beermen and the Alaska Aces will be played on Sunday, January 17 at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.

The Scores:
San Miguel Beer (90) – Lassiter 22, Santos 15, Fajardo 14, Espinas 9, Ross 8, Cabagnot 6, Tubid 6, Arana 4, De Ocampo 4, Lutz 2, Reyes 0.
Rain or Shine (82) – Belga 16, Ponferada 14, Norwood 14, Chan 11, Ibanes 10, Cruz 6, Ahanmisi 5, Quinahan 4, Trollano 0.
Quarterscores: 19-16, 37-46, 70-63, 90-82.

Video courtesy of Sports5

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Rose Vargas all set for UAAP return after four-season absence



In an unprecedented move, hard-hitting Far Eastern University spiker Rose Vargas will return to finish her UAAP career when Season 80 kicks off on February 3 at the SM Mall of Asia Arena.

Vargas last played for the Lady Tamaraws in Season 75. With a year of eligibility left, Vargas left the Morayta-based program to focus on her academics and pursue a career in the semi-pro ranks.

Five years since her last UAAP game, Vargas says that she did not hesitate when FEU officials asked if she wanted to return to play out her final year of eligibility.

During her time in the V-League, she played for the Cagayan Valley Rising Suns, the Pocari Sweat Lady Warriors, the Bureau of Custom Transformers, and, most recently, the Creamline Cool Smashers.

“‘Yung pag-babalik naman dito (FEU) is hindi ko naman pinag-isipan matagal or nag-dalawang isip ako,” said the Season 74 Best Scorer. “Noong tinanong lang sa akin kung gusto ko daw bumalik, ang sagot ko lang, oo.

“Kasi gusto kong makatulong, and gusto kong makuha ‘yung championship namin na matagal ng hindi nakukuha ng FEU.”

Vargas adds to an already solid FEU core which includes graduating captain Bernadeth Pons, Toni Rose Basas, and Jerrili Malabanan.

The last time Vargas suited up for FEU, she was the main piece to a core that included Mari Toni Basas — Toni Rose’s older sister, a young Remy Palma, Gyzelle Sy, and Tin Agno.

Vargas now sees herself as more of a complimentary piece, the hardened veteran looking to guide FEU’s younger guns in a season where much if expected of them.

“Ngayon, nadagdagan siguro yung maturity and ko, pagiging veteran daw, sabi, na pwede ko mai-share din sa mga bata ‘yun, as a leader, as an ate,” added Vargas.

“Nako-contribute ko kung anong knowledge ang natutunan ko.”

League insiders are confident that Vargas, who turned 25-year-old on December 12 last year, will be declared eligible to play in Season 80. Although the UAAP is yet to have their eligibility meeting this week, a source closely monitoring the situation expressed confidence that Vargas will pass the league’s eligibility rules.

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23 for 2023 cadet CJ Perez honored to help out Gilas



Having had the chance to represent the Philippines in FIBA-sanctioned cagefests such the Asia Challenge Cup and the 3X3 All-Stars back in 2016, Lyceum Pirates star CJ Perez is no stranger to the international stage.

But the 24-year-old do-it-all swingman admits that he still gets overwhelmed whenever he sees his seniors — the stars and pillars of the program — in the team. “Nasusurprise [pa rin] ako,” he said. “Mga professionals eh.

“Na-istarstruck pa rin ako sa kanila.”

Perez said so when he finally made his return within Gilas’ realms last Monday night. The last time he was with the National Team was in August 2016, when the SBP built an amateur-laden batch of Gilas cagers that served as the transition from the 2016 Olympic Qualifiers squad to the 2017 SEABA team.

“Sobrang grateful ako (sa invitation),” said the talented six-foot-two guard, after practice at the Meralco Gym.

The reigning NCAA Most Valuable Player is back in the fold for Gilas as his name, along with young, up-and-coming stars, was included in the 23 for 2023 pool — a list of cagers projected to be the contingent for the Manila-hosted World Cup.

“Iniisip ko yun (FIBA World Cup 2023) simula magtawag sila ng practice. Actually nandoon na yung utak ko eh,” the Lyceum Pirate ace bared. “Kailangan ko lang mag work hard pa para makapasok dun sa lineup na yun, kahit malayo pa.

“It’s an honor para ma-represent yung country.”

Unlike in 2016, Perez graced the court and took part in drills with the veterans such as Gabe Norwood, Japeth Aguilar, June Mar Fajardo, among others. With those type of players around him, he feels that the lessons he can get will be limitless.

“Oo sobra. Kahit kanino naman (matututo ka talaga),” Perez shared. “(At tsaka) Dito parang more on sa mental. ‘Di na iniisip yung conditioning kasi may ibang teams naman sila so about sa mental toughness [talaga].”

For now, the 23 for 2023 cadets are already working out not just for familiarity, but also to help the seniors in preparing for the 2019 FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers this February.

“Sobrang happy and grateful na nakakatulong ako sa kanila kahit sa simpleng practice lang.”

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Blistering Mikey Williams takes home Heritage Import of the Week honor



Photo from ASEAN Basketball League

The resurgent Saigon Heat have been the thorn to topflight clubs teams Hong Kong Eastern Basketball Club and Nanhai Kung Fu, handing both squads their first losses in the eighth season of the ASEAN Basketball League. The Heat would not have done it without Filipino-American import Mikey Williams.

Williams, a 6-foot-2 guard out of Cal State Fullerton, dropped 39 points on 14-for-25 shooting to go along with seven rebounds and nine assists in Saigon’s 121-115 overtime win over Hong Kong.

The former NBA G-Leaguer followed it up with a sensational 24-point, five-rebound, and seven-assist outing in their 96-93 win over Kung Fu.

Overall, the 26-year-old guard averaged 31.5 points, 6.0 rebounds, 8.0 assists, and 1.0 steals to edge out fellow Filipino AJ Mandani of the Singapore Slingers for the weekly award.

For the Local Player of the Week, two Alab Pilipinas stalwarts were the runners-up for the crown.

Reigning local Most Valuable Player Bobby Ray Parks, Jr. and his floor general Josh Urbiztondo had stellar weeks that earned them honorable mentions.

Parks averaged 17.5 points, 6.0 rebounds, and 5.0 assists for the week that saw Alab lose to the Slingers at home last Wednesday before bouncing back on the road against the Mono Vampire last Sunday.

Urbiztondo, on the other hand, had norms of 14.5 points on a hot 9-for-17 clip from downtown.

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Brazilian football legend Zico to visit Manila



Contributed photos

One of the best to ever play the Beautiful Game is coming to the Philippines. Zico, who electrified the footballing world in the ’70s and ’80s, is slated to visit Manila on the weekend of January 27.

The Brazilian, whose real name is Arthur Antunes Coimbra, is considered one of the best footballers in the world during the late 70’s and early 80’s. Zico starred for the Brazilian national team, scoring 48 goals in 71 appearances for the Selecao. In 1999, the attacking midfielder came 8th in the FIFA Player of the Century grand jury vote, and in 2004 was named in FIFA’s list of the world’s greatest living players.

Zico played for legendary Brazilian club Flamengo and also for the Italian Serie A team Udinese. He finished his playing career suiting up for Kashima Antlers in the J-League, the top tier of Japanese football, leading them to an unlikely runner-up finish.

The 64-year-old also had a successful managerial career, leading Turkey’s Fenerbahce, Greek team Olympiacos, and CSKA Moscow to titles. Zico was also in charge of the Japanese national team when they won the AFC Asian Cup in 2004. Because of that accomplishment, Zico is one of the most beloved football figures in the Land of the Rising Sun.

Seven Seas Properties, a company that promotes Philippine real estate and Philippine stocks in the Japanese market, is bringing the football icon here.

“We are delighted to welcome Zico to the Philippines. I’m sure he will give a big boost to the growing football scene here,” says Seven Seas Properties President Yukihiro Nishimura.

Zico will attend a CSR event with young footballers from underprivileged communities on Saturday, January 27. The following day, Sunday January 28, he will lead a football clinic for elite young players and coaches in the McKinley Hill stadium in Taguig. Football fans and media are welcome to watch this event, which kicks off at 2:00 pm. Admission is free.

Zico in Manila is also made possible by Otsuka – Solar Philippines, Inter Sports Partners, AgriNurture, and Primex.

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