The Alaska Aces displayed their depth once more.
This time, the Aces were able to stave-off a gallant fourth quarter stand by Sean Anthony and the NLEX Road Warriors, 89-81, to gain solo lead and to book the first of ten playoffs spots in the 2015-16 PBA Smart Bro Philippine Cup early Friday evening at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
The game started with both teams struggling from the field as both teams displayed excellent switcing on defense to force the other to well-contested attempts. Alaska was able to gain a 14-7 lead later in the first quarter with veteran Eric Menk leading the charge. After Alaska’s group substitution with 4:25 left in the quarter, the Aces imposing frontline line of Nonoy Baclao and Vic Manuel forced the Road Warriors to shoot from the outside as Eric Camson and Kevin Alas were able to cut the lead. However, Manuel continued his hot-shooting for the season in scoring four quick points on the elbow while Calvin Abueva was able to knockdown a jumper with 12 seconds remaining to give Alaska a 23-15 lead to enter the second frame.
The Alaska defense continued to be on point in the second quarter in limiting NLEX to just four points in the first five minutes of the quarter. Even with Alas and Jonas Villanueva gaining their touch, the Aces lead continued to balloon Sonny Thoss, Tony Dela Cruz, and Ping Exciminiano were able to extend the Alaska lead to 11, 42-31, to enter the break.
NLEX veteran Asi Taulava went out of the locker room aggressive as his team looked to chip into the Alaska lead. Taulava’s production though was negated by the depth of the Aces as Alaska continued to make the stops on defense while excellent ball movement helped extend the Alaska lead to a game-high 20 points, 64-44, after a JVee Casio jumper, his first points of the game, coming off a pick-and-pop play with 3:30 remaining in the third stanza. The Road Warriors were able to end the quarter with a 8-4 run to cut the Alaska lead to 16, 68-52.
With the momentum they gained to close-out the quarter, the Road Warriors frontline of Anthony and Enrico Villanueva pounded their way to the paint to slowly chip-in to the Alaska lead. And just like in the first three quarter, Alaska was again in penalty but it came earlier in the fourth with 9:31 left in regulation. The Boyet Fernandez-mentored squad took advantage of this as they consistently pounded the paint to grab fouls. Behind Sean Anthony, Asi Taulava, and Villanueva were able to cut the lead to just four, 82-78, with 1:55 remaining. However, spitfire guard Casio was able to knock down a booming triple coming from a Thoss dish that gave Alaska some breathing room. A Jonas Villanueva-jumper, his first in the second half, was quickly answered by a teardrop by Baguio with 1:10 left. A split on the stripe by Anthony, who had 18 fourth quarter points, and a turnover by him paved the way for free throws by Thoss that gave Alaska an 89-81 win, their sixth of the season.
After the game, Alaska head coach Alex Compton said that the Aces were solid all throughout the game. “I though we were pretty solid all throughout. We had good shots but they were missing. Ang dami naming layup na hindi pumasok,” he said.
Moreover, committed 31 fouls all throughout the game that led to 31 free throw attempts for the Road Warriors. Compton assessed that they need to work on playing clean defense. “We have to stop fouling pero parang palagi kami nasa penalty. Even Anthony in the fourth quarter attempted a lot of free throws,” he said. “We just need to stop fouling and play clean defense.”
For Thoss, who tallied a double-double with 16 points and ten boards, he credited his excellent overall outing to team effort. “It was actually a team effort. I did my job in limiting him but my teammates had my back,” he said in limiting Asi Taulava to just ten points and seven boards. But he too emphasized that they should work on defense as well, “we have to work on that. We have to make our stand defensively.”
Besides Thoss, three other Aces scored in double-figures. Rome Dela Rosa was perfect from the field in 11 points on 4/4 shooting from the field. Calvin Abueva notched a double-double with ten points and ten boards while Manuel added 11.
Sean Anthony led the for NLEX once more with 21 points and nine boards. However, the Filipino-Canadian was just 7/13 from the foul stripe that helped contribute to the loss. Rico Villanueva added 12 markers and nine boards as well.
As a team, Alaska shot 43% from the field compared to 38% by NLEX. Even in converting and attempting more shots, the Road Warriors were able to keep close in the dying minutes of the game in attempting 31 free throws but missed 13 of them.
The Alaska Aces (6-1) looks to continue their winning run in facing the struggling Meralco Bolts on Thursday, December 3 at 7:00pm. On the other hand, the NLEX Road Warriors (4-3) will have the GlobalPort Batang Pier as their next assignment on Wednesday, December 2 at 4:15pm. The former will be played at the SM Mall of Asia Arena while the latter is set at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Alaska (89) – Thoss 16, Manuel 11, Dela Rosa 11, Abueva 10, Menk 9, Banchero 6, Casio 5, Hontiveros 5, Dela Cruz 4, Baguio 4, Exciminiano 3, Jazul 3, Racal 2, Baclao 0.
NLEX (81) – Anthony 21, Villanueva E. 12, Taulava 10, Villanueva J. 9, Alas 9, Enciso 5, Reyes 5, Camson 4, Khobuntin 4, Cardona 2, Lanete 0, Borboran 0, Apinan 0, Arboleda 0.
Quarterscores: 23-15, 42-31, 68-52, 89-81.
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