For Alaska, there is truly no tomorrow—no next conference, in fact. So when a big start by NLEX threatened to end their PBA existence on Wednesday, the Aces used that as a chance to remind fans of the kind of basketball the team always flaunted.
“[Y]ou know, that’s what Alaska basketball is all about—doing things together,” said swingman Jeron Teng.
They get one more playdate to do that.
Alaska, roughed up early in the game, carved out a 93-79 victory over No. 2 NLEX in their Governors’ Cup quarterfinal showdown at Smart Araneta Coliseum, setting up what could be an emotional decider on Saturday.
The Aces looked headed for an ugly end to their franchise history early on when they fell into a 12-26 hole after a rampaging start by the Road Warriors. But Teng and Abu Tratter took turns in feisty 15-0 run in the second frame that erased the Road Warriors’ lead and put the Aces on the driver seat by the halftime break, 40-38.
Mike Tolomia then scored all of his 10 points in the third period to help build a comfortable cushion for the Aces.
“We just became relentless. We never stopped playing, and we just stuck with each other. We played with each other, both on offense and defense,” Teng said on the heels of a 16-point performance.
Import Mark Saint Fort, who was just cleared to play by the PBA just around lunchtime, finished with 17 points and 14 rebounds, helping the club gain a new lease on life in its farewell tour. Also living to fight another day was Barangay Ginebra, which turned back No. 3 TNT, 104-92, in the second game.
The Aces had announced that it was leaving the PBA for good and management was hoping this last ride would end with a title.
And Wednesday’s collective effort, according to head coach Jeff Cariaso, was a reflection of his charges buying into the idea that despite the handicap brought on by their seeding, they are truly a capable lot.
Before the game, Cariaso flashed on a whiteboard inside the team’s dugout a Muhammad Ali quote that read: “If my mind can conceive it and my heart can believe it—then I can achieve it.”
“It starts within you, right? It starts with each person, believing. Normally it’s not a reminder. Because that’s there, you’re together for so long you’d feel like it’s a natural thing that should be there. But I thought like it needed to be said,” he told the Inquirer.
“If we’re not gonna believe that we could step in and do something, then why are we even here? Why are we even trying when there’s no belief and trust?” Cariaso added.
Not good enough
NLEX, which will now burn its twice-to-beat bonus, got the goods from import Cameron Clark, who finished with 25 points and Kevin Alas and Don Trollano who wound up with 17 and 12, respectively.
The Road Warriors was able to cut the lead to just seven in the payoff frame, but Alaska big man Yousef Taha and lifer Kevin Racal hit timely shots to enable the Aces to coast the rest of the way.
But if the Aces want to book another playdate, this time in the semifinals, they will need to be better in their win-or-go-home clash.
“This performance is not good enough for Saturday. And I truly believe that. So we have to be ready and motivated,” Cariaso said.
“NLEX is gonna be that wounded tiger in our fight. They’re gonna be ready and even more motivated. We have to feel like we’re on the other end of that situation, and know we haven’t accomplished anything,” he added.
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