A defensive struggle. That’s how Alex Compton, head coach of the Alaska Aces, and Norman Black, the newly-installed mentor of the Meralco Bolts see the knockout match on Sunday at the SMART-Araneta Coliseum.
The two teams square off at 5 p.m. with the winner joining early qualifiers San Miguel Beer and Rain or Shine, two squads which automatically gained outright semis berths after finishing as the top two at the end of the elimination round.
“It’s going to be defensive. It’s not a secret how we do things, we press a lot,” said Compton. “I think that’s how the knockout game is going to be decided, by defense, by effort. Meralco is also one of the hardworking teams in the PBA.”
In the past, Alaska would implement a structured system, something which the team is used to doing. Their past coaches – Tim Cone and Luigi Trillo, both of whom are responsible for giving the Aces championships – ran the triangle offense.
It wasn’t easy to let go of the system, according to Compton, but everyone set their minds on the things they want to do for the team.
“When we asked the help of Rob Bevridge, I just shared [with] him what I wanted for my team and we worked on the things that would somehow become the new identity of the team,” said Compton. This new-look Alaska team is more like a college team. They’ve been pressing, they’ve been running and they’ve been hustling like never before.
At one stretch, that new formula catapulted the Aces to the top until they lost their last few games and settled for no. 3.
A step forward for Meralco
Black took over a team that was anchored by Gary David, but this season, a more scrappy, hardworking Bolts squad showed up and covered whatever weaknesses they have.
One of team’s weaknesses is the center spot, probably the most important position in the PBA today, especially now that the league is being dominated by big men like June Mar Fajardo, Greg Slaughter and veteran slotman Asi Taulava. The Bolts’ starting center, Rabeh Al-Hussaini, has yet to return due to family matters in Kuwait, leaving the squad to rely not just on any one player, but on everyone up front.
“We do it based on our center by committee – Danny Ildefonso, Reynel Hugnatan, and John Ferriols – and even our other forwards are helping out like Cliff Hodge and Sean Anthony,” said Black.
The ploy enabled the Bolts to survive as they knocked out the Purefoods Star Hotshots.
“It’s definitely a step forward for our organization. I’m so proud of the whole team, from top to bottom, everyone from the assistant coaches, the management, the practice players, everyone that puts in their effort to make this work. Everyone’s happy,” said Black.
In their quarterfinal knockout match against Alaska, defense will also be Meralco’s calling card.
“That’s the identity of this team. Whether we struggle on offense or not, our defense has to remain a priority for us. We have a lot of energy guys, a lot of defensive-first minded guys and we need to stick to that role,” added Black.