SLR 102, RB 98

On: 22 December 2008

PBA's 34th Season

For scoring a repeat win over Red Bull, Sta. Lucia Realty can rightfully say it has the Barakos' number. And the Realtors now have the figure they want.

Sta. Lucia worked its comeback magic over Red Bull for a 102-98 win Sunday (21 December 2008) and an automatic quarterfinals slot in the KFC PBA Philippine Cup at the Cuneta Astrodome.

Joseph Yeo came off the bench to scatter 22 of his game-high 25 points and Dennis Espino 18 of his personal conference-high 23 in the second half, boosting the Realtors from as much as a 20-point third quarter deficit and into their 10th win in 18 games.

That record and finish in the eliminations is short of the Realtors' outright semifinals entry en route to clinching the crown last year, but coach Boyet Fernandez is not about to gripe when his team has earned what is widely considered the next best thing.

"I'm keeping my fingers crossed, but whatever happens we now still have the chance to defend our crown," said Fernandez, whose team also came back from 19 points down to beat Red Bull the first time they met.

It was a doubly stinging loss for Red Bull, which also blew a 20-point lead and lost to Coca-Cola 86-88 last Friday, quashing the Photokina franchise's hopes of getting past the eliminations anew.

The Barakos came into the game looking to act out the role of spoilers, but they were themselves foiled after once again failing to hold their ground in the face of the Realtors' Yeo-led assault.

"Yeo stepped up and it's sort of expected because he's really been our ace off the bench," enthused Fernandez.

The man known as 'The Ninja' proved this by draining back-to-back triples to tie the score at 92 and then fully guided Sta. Lucia home in the last five minutes with a block and a banked shot he released going down to make it a 100-95 game, 10.4 ticks left.

Magnum Membrere's quick triple made it a two-point game, but Espino's free throws put the game away in the last 3.2 seconds.

In the end, Fernandez related it was all about his players finally taking to heart what he's been harping about in practically all their early timeouts and halftime talk.

"All the guys stepped up and heeded my call to have pride in themselves as the defending champions," Fernandez related.

"Good thing we started putting pressure on their defense and tightened up on ours," he added, noting the 22 turnovers and 32-of-81 field shooting their opponents wound up with, compared to his team's 20 and 33-of-76.

Jeffrei Chan tied his career-high with 23 points and Cyrus Baguio and Paolo Hubalde added 17 and 12, respectively, for Red Bull, which formally wound up the elims with a 5-13 slate.

Sta. Lucia was projected to run roughshod over the Barakos after having had a week off following a blowout 90-69 win over the Tigers last Sunday.

But the shoe was on the other foot.

"As I repeatedly kept telling the guys, Red Bull is a very dangerous team, even if they're out (of the playoffs) I knew they were gonna come out strong and they did," said Fernandez.

With Chan scattering 11 of his points and his team's defense forcing six Sta. Lucia turnovers, Red Bull seemingly assumed control right at the two-minute mark of the first period to pull away and take a 34-29 lead.

The Barakos actually committed more turnovers in the second period 7-2, but they compensated with an 18-8 advantage off the boards and a 10-of-17 clip from the floor, compared to the Realtors' 6-of-24.

Baguio also waxed hottest, scoring 16 of his 17 first half points to make it 63-43 just before the half ended and maintaining the difference at 65-45, just a minute into the third quarter.

"Giving up 63 points in the first half is really a sign of poor defense and tentativeness on our part," admitted Fernandez.

Then the memories of its blown leads against Coke and Sta. Lucia began rearing its ugly head on Red Bull once again.

Behind Yeo's 11 points and Espino's eight, the Realtors steadily chipped away at Red Bull's lead, finally taking it down to 73-78 off Yeo's drive, 2:06 left in the period.

The Realtors could have further whittled the deficit, but Yeo missed a triple and Espino his follow-up. Chan answered by draining a wide-open trey, helping the Barakos tote an 86-75 lead into the fourth.

As it turned out, Yeo and his teammates were far from down.

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