Alaska head coach Jeff Cariaso is proud of his Aces’ improvement on defense, which ultimately led to their conquest of Magnolia on Saturday night, to break through the win column of the 2020 PBA Philippine Cup.
“I challenged the guys going into tonight’s game that we just need to be better in what we do. And the guys showed it tonight — defensively, they were a lot better than the first two games,” he said after their 87-81 victory.
Huge stops by leaders Vic Manuel and Jvee Casio down the stretch best represented their effort, but Cariaso also tipped his hat to his wards, who took turns in containing Hotshots main man Paul Lee.
The gunslinging guard was coming off a heroic outing versus NLEX last Wednesday. He converted a four-point play with 32.5 seconds left to play — something the Hotshots needed to get away with the 103-100 win.
Magnolia tried to emulate that versus the Aces when they were down 81-85 with 23.5 ticks left. They executed almost the same play it drew versus the Road Warriors where Lee would come off a double screen for a three.
This time, though, the Aces prevented him from having a good look thanks to Mike DiGregorio’s pesky defense. The ball eventually fell to Jackson Corpuz instead, but he saw his trey deflected by Casio.
DiGregorio delivered on both ends in the win while picking up 10 markers. Cariaso lauded how he embraced the responsibility of guarding Lee. But he also praised the other Aces who embraced the unenviable task.
“I’d like to say that first of all, there’s really not one person who can defend Paul Lee. I think Mike did a great job of taking that responsibility. So did Robbie [Herndon], so did Jvee for a little bit, and so did MJ Ayaay,” he said.
“That was really our purpose — to get a few guys guarding him, guys who had rest and are not tired. Because guarding Paul, you need to be ready, you need to be focused,” added the cager-turned-coach.
“And a lot of their offense is really revolving around him, so we just wanted to mix it up a little bit. And I’m happy with the way the guys performed.”