The near steal
by rick olivares
November 14, 2012
Smart Araneta Coliseum
“Putang ina hindi pumasok.”
Calvin Abueva was upset at himself. Saddled with foul trouble all game long, he returned to the floor with under 6 minutes left and with Alaska down 100-93. The Aces came back from 18 points down and were a couple of buckets away from leveling the match before a Mike Cortez trey and Mark Isip basket gave Air21 a massive seven-point lead as it gave them some breathing room in the face of a withering Aces rally.
Alaska was stopped on its previous two possessions and Luigi Trillo sent back Abueva into the fray to give his team a lift. Trillo had hoped that Abueva would jump start their moribund offense by giving him the first start of his professional career and it nearly turned into a disaster as the Beast was called for a few fouls.
Despite having five fouls on him, Abueva’s energy was sorely needed after forward Gabby Espinas reinjured his leg.
With 2:44 left in the game clock, the ball was whipped over to Abueva who found himself at the left side of the three-point arc where he had former Alaska swingman Bonbon Custodio guarding him. The Beast pump faked twice before firing away. Custodio fouled him for a four-point play to bring the lead down to three, 100-97.
Isip missed a jumper and Alaska’s return trip to their side of the court, Cyrus Baguio drove and drew a crowd. He passed out to Mac Baracael who launched a trey from the same spot where Abueva earlier nailed one. Bang. Game tied for the first time.
Following an Air21 timeout, Abueva stole the inbound pass and raced down for what appeared to be a thunderous one handed slam. Only the ball rimmed out but Abueva, whose thought and action are one, picked up the rebound for a put back to give his side its first lead of the match. One Air21’s next offensive, Abueva stripped Cortez of the ball but Alaska was unable to corral the loose ball. Custodio picked up the leather and scooted in for the equalizer.
After an Alaska miss, Abueva nearly got another steal as he battled for possession of the ball with Air21 counterpart Rob Reyes in the Aces side of the court. The ball was collected by Cortez and while prone on the floor, Reyes sneaked in a punch to Abueva’s face. As the Alaska coaching staff screamed bloody murder play went on with Air21 looking to break down the four remaining Alaska defenders. With no whistle forthcoming, Abueva pulled himself up and ran back on defense. Just when the ball was dumped inside for an Air21 player, Abueva stepped in the passing lane to filch the ball. With the crowd suddenly alive and roaring in anticipation, Cyrus Baguio drove and was fouled.
Baguio, who also struggled with his shot all game long, made one of two free throws to give Alaska a one-point lead, 103-102. The euphoria was short lived as Isip coolly drained a medium range jumper as Alaska center Sonny Thoss was a split second late in covering the Air21 bigman.
With 6.1 seconds left to play, Jayvee Casio missed a three-point attempt. Abueva pulled down the offensive rebound and whirled around for a baseline one-handed stab. It was short and Air21 escaped with a one-point win. Abueva hung his head in dejection.
The early good cheer has been replaced by doubt. The euphoria of a five-game winning streak has since been replaced by a three-match losing skein. In this match, Alaska started out flat and lacked fire. But they came out of the halftime break and responded better to the challenge. However, this was one instance where being in an early hole took a toll on the team’s comeback.
“This is pro basketball,” opined Trillo post-game. “These things happen. But what matters is that we battled back. I didn’t expect us to do it but we found a way. It wasn’t our best game but we battled back.”
Alaska’s third straight loss saw them drop to an even 5-5 record. “It’s not where we want to be but we are still better than five other teams,” reflected Trillo post-match. “When your opponent shoots over 50% in a game then they are going to be tough to beat.”
Even after the post-game talk the team sat in muted silence.
Abueva repeated the motion of his missed short stab while seated in his cubicle. Then he shook his head and went to change out of his game clothes.