It's Just Another KO Game for SLR

On: 16 July 2008

Benson vs Alexander

By Joaquin Henson
The Philippine Star, 16 July 2008

Surviving is getting to be a habit for Sta. Lucia Realty and coach Boyet Fernandez has two more do-or-die games to win before making it to the PBA Fiesta Conference semifinals against Red Bull.

A Realtors loss in either one of the two games will send Barangay Ginebra against the Barakos instead.

Tonight, Sta. Lucia tries to stave off elimination when it plays the Gin Kings in Game 2 of their best-of-3 quarterfinal series at the Ynares Center. If the Realtors win, they’ll go up against Ginebra in the winner-take-all clincher on Friday.

In last Sunday’s series opener, Ginebra broke the ice via a 92-90 decision over the reigning Philippine Cup champions.

"As long as you’re alive, you have hope," said Fernandez yesterday. "We’ll make the necessary adjustments in Game 2. We know we can’t play Ginebra’s game – which is shoot, run, shoot, run. We’ve got to set our own tempo. We didn’t shoot well against their zone in Game 1 so we hope we’ll be on target in Game 2."

Fernandez called the Game 1 setback 'a sorry loss.' "We need to play almost a perfect game to beat Ginebra," said Fernandez. "Joseph (Yeo) got into foul trouble in Game 1 and went 0-of-4 in three-pointers. Joseph gives us energy, intensity and instant offense as our sixth man. Our intensity is kept at a high level by our second unit because of Joseph. He’s maturing and his defense is improving. He knows he can’t just play offense because he comes off the bench to replace Ryan (Reyes), Bitoy (Omolon) or Denok (Miranda) who are all defensive players."

But Fernandez pointed to import Lee Benson as the key to Sta. Lucia’s fortunes.

"From the first day he showed up at practice, Lee has been a positive influence on our team," he said. "Our aura changed. Lee is an intelligent and a very talented player. For a big man, he runs the floor very well. Maybe, we wouldn’t have finished No. 9 in the eliminations if Lee was with us from the start." Sta. Lucia started the conference with Wesley Wilson who lasted 11 games. Then came emergency replacement Jamar Brown who played two outings before Benson arrived.

"Not to take anything away from Wilson, I think he’s a capable import but he lacked intensity," said Fernandez. "Lee is challenged by (Ginebra import Chris) Alexander. They know each other well. They went to the same training camp in the US and played in China. Lee is convinced Alexander can’t beat him, that Ginebra can’t beat us. We’re 4-0 at Ynares this conference so it’s just a matter of extending our streak to five."

Fernandez said before hiring Benson, he thought of recruiting an import to play the four spot.

"Cap (Dennis Espino) and Marlou (Aquino) are hardly playing because our import is a pure center," said Fernandez, referring to his veteran frontliners whose contracts are expiring in December. "They understand the situation. Even if they’re not playing much, they’re supporting the team all the way. They did well in the All-Filipino so it’s just that in this conference, the import is taking away their minutes. We considered getting a small import to play four so Cap and Marlou could alternate at five and Kelly (Williams) could slide to three. But with Alexander, Amal McCaskill and Adam Parada around, we were forced to get a big guy."

Fernandez dismissed talk of Benson staying out late at night as exaggerated.

"He told me he doesn’t need a babysitter and he knows what’s right and what’s wrong as far as getting himself ready for basketball is concerned," said Fernandez. "Sometimes, he doesn’t sleep in his unit at Pioneer and stays with a friend so people think he’s out all night. I’ve spoken with Lee and he’s happy to stay. He’s in high spirits."

Fernandez said surviving two do-or-die wildcard games has given his team a shot of confidence.

"When we lost four in a row in the eliminations, I told the guys to just win the next game against Alaska and we’ll be fine," said Fernandez. "That’s what we did. But we lost three straight after that. Still, we had a chance to win all three so we knew we weren’t out of it."

Fernandez said Yeo’s emergence has triggered the turnaround. He shot 27 against Alaska and 29 against Talk ‘N’ Text in the two knockout wildcard games.

"I try to bring out our strong points to cover up our weaknesses," said Fernandez. "Our strong point is defense and that’s what has kept us alive. Against Ginebra, we’ve got to minimize our turnovers, capitalize on their mistakes, improve our shot selection and not allow them to get the crowd going."

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