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Veterans lift Alaska past NLEX, book slot in next phase of quarterfinals

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Another one bites the dust. The Alaska Aces are on to the next round of the quarterfinals, after routing tenth-seeded NLEX Road Warriors, 82-78, Thursday evening at the Cuneta Astrodome.

The Aces got a much-needed boost from veterans Tony de la Cruz, Cyrus Baguio, Vic Manuel, and Erik Menk, whose crunch time defense and discipline helped keep the Road Warriors, who climbed from a double-digit deficit earlier in the game, well at bay.

Alaska opened the first quarter on a high note, forcing errors and misses at the NLEX end while keeping shots falling on theirs. The early rally resulted in a 17-7 lead halfway through the quarter. The Aces stayed ahead of the race despite a late resurgence from the Road Warriors, eventually exiting the period with a 26-17 lead.

Spurred by the hot shooting of veteran sharpshooter Dondon Hontiveros, the Aces’ salvo continued well into the second period. The Aces led by as many as 14, 38-24, at the halfway point of the period. NLEX’s Mac Cardona and Mark Borboran collaborated late in the quarter to trim the lead down to six, 44-38, but Alaska’s JVee Casio responded with five straight points to bring the lead back to double-digits, 49-38, just in time for the halftime break.

A 5-0 spurt helmed by Rudy Lingganay saw the Road Warriors trim the lead to a manageable five points, 55-50, at the six minute mark of the third quarter. They later came within a single possession with two and a half minutes left on the clock, 54-57, after an easy lay-in from the towering Asi Taulava. Alaska however responded with a six-point spurt led by their frontcourt to end the third quarter with a 63-56 lead.

The Road Warriors opened the fourth quarter with a 7-0 rally capped off by three free-throws from KG Canaleta to force a deadlock, 63-63, just less than two minutes into the period. Much of the remainder of the quarter saw the Road Warriors stay within striking distance, with the Aces answering back every basket drilled by NLEX to stay two steps ahead. Entering the final two minutes, the Aces led by six, 80-74. A basket from Aldrech Ramos ignited the Road Warriors’ hopes, pushing the score to 76-80, with little more than a minute left on the clock. A couple of excellent defensive stops from both sides in the next few possessions kept the score unchanged with 17.5 ticks left on the clock, NLEX with possession. Following a spirited timeout huddle with his team, Cardona managed to sink one of his patented hook shots with 12.6 seconds left to come within striking distance, 78-80. A stealthy layup from Casio gave the Aces a two-possession lead with ten seconds remaining, 82-78. With both teams out of timeouts, the Aces needed only to put on another swift defensive display to burn the clock and seal the win.

Manuel led the scoring for the Aces with 13 points. Menk, who was awarded Player of the Game honors, had 8 points and 6 rebounds. Ramos led the Road Warriors in scoring with 17 points. The third-seeded Aces now move on to the next phase of the quarterfinals, where they will face the victor of the Purefoods-Meralco series that will kick off later tonight.

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