Alaska Aces: The lesson
by rick olivares photos by nuki sabio and me
November 7, 2012
Smart Araneta Coliseum
The education of the young Alaska Aces continues. Sometimes it comes at a cost.
Alaska saw its five game winning streak snapped at the hands of the Rain or Shine Elasto Painters, 101-93 as the Aces crumbled from the fiery shooting display of their foes who scored 30 points in the fourth quarter.
The locker room was deathly quiet as some players stared blankly while others were in disbelief at how they let the game slip from them. Center Sonny Thoss was upset at himself as he botched several shots from close range that would have really helped their cause. Others were a little miffed at not returning when they had played well in the early goings.
Eddie Laure, who has been in the PBA for over a decade went up to his teammates shaking their hand. “Keep your head up high,” he said to no one in particular. “Ganyan talaga para sa susunod magtra-trabaho pa tayo ng husto para manalo.” Laure came off the bench to score four points in the third quarter when Alaska continued to play well and hold off Rain or Shine, 77-71, heading into the final period.
After the exhilarating win over Talk ‘n Text last week, Alaska faced another test in its quest for another title. If the Tropang Texters were a test of defense and heart, the Elasto Painters posed another challenge – mental and physical. If there is one team that resembles the fabled Ginebra teams of the 80’s in terms of physicality, fielding journeymen and the unwanted, and getting results from every single ounce of talent, it is Rain or Shine. Their genius resides in its head coach, Yeng Guiao, who has proven that old school is never out of vogue with his hardline approach.
In the pre-game briefing for Alaska, head coach Luigi Trillo went through everything his players needed to do from avoiding Jeff Chan’s kicking movement that the referees continue to fall for, JR Quiñahan’s pump fakes, and Gabe Norwood’s penchant for posting up his man. But the one thing that Trillo stressed was Rain or Shine’s heart. Of how Ronnie Matias fought for every ball, possession, every man as if his life depended on it. Of how Jireh Ibanes and Larry Rodriguez came out of nowhere to earn a roster spot and keep it with their hard-scrapping play.
“If we beat them then we are a threat to their survival, their livelihood,” said Trillo in admiration of his foes for the evening. “These guys play for keeps.”
“Just like Eddie,” he pointed out with a nod to Laure whose contemporaries in the league include Petron’s Danny Ildefonso, Barako Bull’s Celino Cruz, and Talk ‘N Text’s Glibert Lao. “Who has been around the league for so long because he knows what to bring to the table.”
“You have to have each other’s backs and when I say that, I mean it on defense and team play. If they play us physical the best way to answer that is to score on ‘em or get to the foul line. Make them pay.”
Forward Gabby Espinas looked at counterpart Calvin Abueva who was seated across the room from him. Espinas, who was the NCAA’s stud before Abueva came along, pointed to his heart and pounded on it. Abueva returned the gesture.
For three quarters, Alaska frustrated Rain or Shine with their defense, hustle, and heart. And it started with Trillo’s unorthodox five with Sam Eman at center, RJ Jazul and Cyrus Baguio at guard with Espinas and Dondon Hontiveros at forward. Guaio stared down at the Alaska bench with a smile in silent appreciation for the cojones his counterpart had in facing his regular starters of Quiñahan at center, Jervy Cruz and Chan at forward, and Norwood and Ryan Araña at guard.
And it worked as Eman showed hustle and defense as he stole the ball from Cruz, spun around his man for a lay-up, and blocked a Chan jump shot. All of ROS’ attempts in the first two minutes were all from the inside yet Alaska rejected them. On the offensive end, Jazul and Hontiveros bombarded from the three-point line.
Defensively, Rain or Shine couldn’t get untracked as the referees called it tight. The difficulty in playing ROS is their players’ ability to shoot from the outside or drive in if denied. With the inside game denied, the Elasto Painters began to fire away. And when a team shoots 50% from the field, there isn’t much of a chance that they will lose.
After a Chan triple with 8:30 to play to make it, 85-84, for his side, it was like a huge cloud had been lifted for Guiao’s troops. They had battled, clawed and even showed some of their trademark toughness (with Espinas and rookie Calvin Abueva who was mostly a non-factor for the first time in his short pro career) but Alaska held them off. After Chan’s shot, they celebrated as they scaled Mount Alaska. Another Chan lay-up ensured that they were going to stay on the summit.
The Aces descended on a maze of errors and misfires. Rain or Shine celebrated the win, a huge one for them as they overtook Alaska in the standings for second place with a 6-2 record. Idle San Mig Coffee was at third with a 5-2 slate while Alaska tumbled from second to fourth with a 5-3 record.
After Eddie Laure’s gesture to prop up his crestfallen teammates, the coaching staff walked in following their short meeting outside the locker room. Trillo talked about taking practices seriously. Their five-match win streak made them overconfident. In their last practice, there was some clowning around and as a result, they got lost when they ran some of their sets. “Basketball is serious business. You have to respect your opponent. And you have to know everything that we are trying to execute,” reminded Trillo who was upset with the loss. “We thought we had the game in the bag and we stepped off the gas pedal. That’s how it is in the PBA, teams can beat anyone on any given night.”
And looming is a tough foe in San Mig Coffee who Alaska will face this Saturday in Lapu Lapu City, Cebu.