Semifinals Game 5: SLR 95, Alaska 90

On: 07 February 2008

The Alaska Aces came to the game hoping to limit the production of Sta. Lucia Realtors’ superstar Kelly Williams and they succeeded. However, the game was not a one-man show and the Realtors’ veterans showed the Aces why they should not be taken for granted.

Paolo Mendoza, who was averaging only 5.3 points in the series, hit three long shots from beyond the arc in the third quarter and Marlou Aquino asserted his height, might and 12 years of experience in the pros to give the Realtors a huge 17-point third quarter lead. Mendoza finished the game with 19 points on a 55.6 percent shooting from beyond the arc, 2 assists and a steal in only 17 minutes of action. Aquino, on the other hand, produced 18 points on an 80.0 percent shooting, 5 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 blocked shots.

The Aces fought back and managed to claw their way into the lead, 66-64, with 7:03 remaining in the fourth after the Tony dela Cruz lay-up. However, Dennis Espino’s steady hands from the line held off the Alaska rally en route to a 95-90 win and helped the Realtors moved within a win of advancing to just their third Finals appearance since joining the league in 1993 and first in an all-Filipino conference.

For the entire duration of the game, the Realtors showed remarkable maturity that allowed them to outrebound the Aces, 46-41, and distribute the ball better, 23-17 assists. However, Coach Boyet Fernandez tried to downplay their win since they need one more to secure a slot in the Finals.

"We're just one game up. Coach Tim is a great coach. I'm sure his players will come out highly motivated in Game 6. But as long as our players run our defense to the letter we've a chance," said the novice Sta. Lucia coach during the post-game news conference.

Joseph Yeo also gave the team tremendous lift from the bench by scoring 14 points, grabbing 6 rebounds and making 4 assists, while Miranda had 7 points, 4 rebounds, 6 assists and 3 steals.

Kelly Williams, who was the primary focus of the Alaska defense, nearly missed a double-double by scoring 13 points, grabbing 9 rebounds and stealing thrice from the Aces in a nearly-no-relief 47 minutes of action in the court. Williams struggled with his shots from the floor all night (only 21.3 percent clip), but managed to sink all-important free-throws in the last minute of the game to help preserve their win.

"The players deserve all the credit. They fought hard and never gave when Alaska threatened to turn the game around," Fernandez added.

The game almost turned ugly when Mendoza tied the score, 66-all, in the fourth but was called for a flagrant foul in the next play for hitting Mike Cortez in the face while trying to knock the ball away from the Alaska guard underneath the basket.

During the brief lull, Jeffrey Cariaso, the most veteran among the Aces, pushed Mendoza aside, earning his second technical in the game that led to his ejection.

"That really hurt us. Jeffrey should not have done that. He's our leader on the floor and what he did really cost us,” Alaska head coach Tim Cone said.

To make matters worse, the Aces went 1-of-11 from the field and committed three turnovers in the last six minutes that shattered their hopes to steal the game.

After the game, Cone embraced Fernandez, his former player, at midcourt after refusing to shake his hand in Games 2, 3 and 4.

Game 6 of the SMART-PBA Philippine Cup Final Four is set on Friday, February 8, also at the Araneta Coliseum, 7:20 pm.

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