Magnolia head coach Chito Victolero could only think of what could have been following the end of their PBA Governors’ Cup campaign Wednesday night.
The champion mentor lamented how Paul Lee could have kept the Hotshots alive at least for a day after nailing a big three-pointer with under a minute left in the fourth quarter, only for the supposed dagger to be negated.
Mark Barroca was called for an offensive foul, and that proved so costly as Meralco was able to gain momentum and complete the fightback.
The Hotshots lost in overtime, 113-107, bowing out of the playoffs for the second straight Governors’ Cup against the very same team.
“Breaks of the game,” said Victolero after the match at the SMART Araneta Coliseum. “Kung hindi natawagan ng offensive foul, maybe we won the game.”
But the former cager turned mentor refused to pin the blame solely on that call, that it was really the lack of endgame sharpness that led to the downfall.
For him, his wards could not afford to get lost mentally against an elite team like Meralco, who edged out Magnolia for the No. 4 seed entering the quarters to also gain the twice-to-beat edge — which they maximized to reach the semis.
“Hindi natin kontrolado ‘yung mga ganoong tawag. Kontrolado lang namin is to make a stop, which is hindi naman namin nagawa. Yun, yung mga ganoong sitwasyon, we have to be sharp and smart down the stretch,” he said.
“‘Yun ‘yung reminders ng coaches, if you face an elite team like Meralco, which is yan naman talaga sa dulo eh – the Ginebras, the San Miguels, the Talk N Texts. You have to make sure you’re ready to play for 48 minutes.
“And you have to minimize the breakdowns. If not, ‘yun ‘yung mangyayari,” he added. “We had a good, good execution down the stretch, ‘yun siguro, ‘yung last one minute and a half, doon kami parang nawala.”
This quarters exit was indeed a tough one to accept for a Magnolia side that reached the semis in the first two conferences.
But even having those deep runs isn’t something Victolero finds solace in, for what matters most to the club is reaching the Big Dance.
“We had at least a so-so season, a good but not great season,” he offered. “We had two semifinals stints, and one quarterfinals. We didn’t miss the playoffs, but again, ang pinag-uusapan naman natin dito is going to the Finals eh,”he added.
“2021-22, we had one finals appearance. But now, we missed the finals of the three conferences.”
And so, making it back to the Finals, which they last did in the 2021 Philippine Cup, is the goal for next season which starts in October.
For now, though, it will be about rest and recovery for the storied franchise, which suffered injuries to key players during the season.
“We’ll take a rest for three weeks siguro then we will be back maybe on the third week of April, preparation for the preseason coming this May. ‘Yun lang muna. We’ll just try to heal the wounds, everything, the pain. Masakit,” he said.
“Very painful, because we have a chance. But again, this is basketball. I told them it’s not yet over, hindi tayo pwede mag-celebrate. Hopefully everyone learned from that. We will come back strong next season.”
The second game of each PBA gameday is live-streamed on SMART Sports.