A goal of Jeff Cariaso upon taking over Alaska’s coaching reins two years ago was to ensure that the team will reach the playoffs in every conference.
Thus, the difficulty on his part to accept the fact that the Aces bowed out of contention in the 2021 Honda PBA Philippine Cup, the first time since the 2017 Governors’ Cup that they won’t advance to the quarterfinals.
“It’s really bothering me. Kasi nga, ‘yun nga ‘yung goal — Every conference, we want to make the playoffs,” lamented the cager-turned-mentor to Tiebreaker Times, Friday.
“And this is, yes, my first one that we are not making it.”
Cariaso was speaking from his residence as he and the MIlkmen had already left their hotel in the Pampanga semi-bubble. But definitely, he and the team would prefer to stay longer in the province — and compete.
Alaska, though, actually had a chance to do so last Wednesday. It just needed to get past San Miguel to keep its aspirations alive.
Unfortunately, all their hopes got dashed no thanks to a last-gasp corner three-pointer by marksman Marcio Lassiter with over three seconds remaining. And the Beermen eventually bagged home the 101-100 win.
The youthful bench tactician admitted that it did affect his wards’ play the following day versus NorthPort, where they also lost 94-122.
“We felt like we should’ve won that game. And I really feel bad for the guys kasi I think the way they played, they deserve to win. Pero like I said, against a San Miguel team, you have to be perfect until the very end,” he said.
But it’s worth noting that the Aces headed into the SMB game spent. They only had little time to recover — two days, to be exact — from a killer schedule last week that saw them play three consecutive nights.
“We played three in a row, two days to recover, and then that was the start of a back-to-back,” recalled Cariaso, who swore that he has never experienced playing back-to-back-to-back matches even during his playing years.
It was the first time that a team had to play three straight games. But Alaska got into such a tough predicament to make up for lost time, as they were placed under the league’s health and safety protocols for two weeks.
“It’s a unique and a very different schedule. But it had to happen because of the situation, so, understandable ‘yun,” he offered.
Things looked promising at the start, though, when it took down defending champs Ginebra, 89-75. But it failed to follow it up against the top-seeded TNT, Terrafirma, San Miguel, and the Batang Pier, finishing at 3-8.
“If you have seven, eight guys who are recovering from COVID, and their playing condition isn’t like before, and you’re playing back-to-back, it’s not easy,” said Cariaso, who came to a point that he only had eight men in practice.
“We did our best. We tried to pull through. But it was one of those things where you get tired a little bit, and then your legs aren’t as strong, aren’t as fast, so you just try to make the best. Pero kulang eh,” he added.
But such is life, as the saying goes. And Cariaso isn’t offering any excuses whatsoever with how things had gone for Alaska this conference.
“We’re disappointed with the placing. We feel and we know naman that we are a lot better than how we performed. But there are factors also, and reasons behind that,” he said.
“But we don’t wanna give any excuses.”
“During my last talk to the team for this conference, I wanted to make sure that the thing where we focused on, where we should remain in focus on are all the good things that we saw,” he said.
“I think when we are able to prepare and mentally we’re focused and ready, I think you know we have a good team where we can beat anyone. But when we’re not focused, there’s no time to prepare, then that’s where the challenge comes in. So I told them to stay with what we learned. The development of the younger players, they were able to get a little bit of exposure,” he continued.
“I think malaking bagay ‘yung magkasama for one month, the players got closer, they got to know each other better — we always say when you get closer outside of the court, you’ll be better inside the court. So, yun. We take the good with the bad,” he added.
“It was a challenge but again, we saw a lot of bright moments — now it’s really just how to be consistent in all the aspects that we look for.”