And the Meralco Bolts march on…
by rick olivares
After a 16-day lay-off, the Meralco Bolts battled not only tough Mahindra but also rust. If there is anything that has characterized these Bolts its their newfound resolve.
It has been their ability to hang tough in the closing stages and to battle back to overhaul the lead or make a game of it.
Even in their two losses thus far in their nine matches, they were there right up to the last second of the match.
That 94-86 win over Mahindra was won not only with defense but also showed the newfound balance of the team.
In the fourth quarter, Reynel Hugnatan, Jared Dillinger, and Jimmy Alapag all made huge shots. Baser Amer up to that point was a non-factor and he looked as if he was about to be substituted when he hit two big triples. Fourth year pro player Cliff Hodge had a big game and was consistent throughout the match. However, it was Chris Newsome who got Meralco back on track.
His ability to bring up the ball, hit the open man, split the double team and get to the basket opened up things for the Bolts. When the local players began to make their shots that allowed Mahindra’s defense to fray. They were quick to double team American reinforcement Arinze Onuaku early on and steadily, Meralco’s players would make their medium range shots — Bryan Faundo hit a couple, so did Hugnatan and Hodge. But when Newsome was getting inside the lane, that really spread Mahindra’s defense allowing Onuaku to get some huge licks inside.
That medium range jumper is crucial to Meralco’s game. When Hugnatan, Faundo, Ken Bono, Hodge, and others are able to hit that medium range shot, it makes life easier for Onuaku. Hugnatan came up huge with 13 points and 5 rebounds. Hodge hit quite a few outside shots and for me was the Best Player of the Game. He scored 25 points and pulled down 11 boards.
On the defensive side, Meralco seems to have problems with athletic imports who can break down perimeter defenses and get inside. San Miguel’s Tyler Wilkerson, NLEX’s Anthony Thornton, and Mahindra’s Augustus Gilchrist have given the Bolts fits when they drive to the basket. Gilchrist was a thorn on Meralco’s side in the first half. In the fourth quarter, he had only two shot attempts missing both. I was kind of surprised they didn’t give him the ball a lot but went to the locals. While the local support is good, I thought that Gilchrist’s ability to get inside and score was what got them the lead.
When Onuaku began to make his presence felt in the fourth period — he scored only 2 points but he grabbed 7 rebounds. That forced Mahindra to send Gilchrist to help out players Jason Ballesteros and Aldrech Ramos who were playing Onuaku. However, they don’t have the height and heft to guard the man mountain who is Arinze.
Leading the league at 7-2 is good for this Meralco team that is getting better as the conference goes on.
The acid test is on Friday when they face Alaska who they have not beaten in three years.