By JONAS TERRADO
Games Today (Smart Araneta Coliseum)
4:30 p.m. – Kia vs Alaska
6:45 p.m. – Magnolia vs NLEX
Defending champion San Miguel took advantage of a key block by Arwind Santos near the homestretch and held off TNT KaTropa, 88-76, last night to remain unbeaten in the PBA Philippine Cup at the San Agustin Gym in Iloilo City.
Santos blocked a potential game-tying basket by Troy Rosario before converting a jumper on the other end that extended San Miguel’s lead to 78-74 with 2:32 remaining in the contest. Both plays turned out to be timely for the Beermen, who raised their record to 3-0 in the season-opening conference.
The 2013 Most Valuable Player finished with 15 points, 11 rebounds and four blocks in the Petron Saturday Special that marked the first out-of-town game of the league’s 43rd season.
Alex Cabagnot, whose corner three made it 81-74 for San Miguel with nearly two minutes to play, had 11 points and 12 rebounds while Marcio Lassiter added 15 points and eight rebounds.
June Mar Fajardo topscored with 20 points for San Miguel, which spent most of the first three quarters trying to catch up against a TNT squad that led by a high of 12 points.
But Fajardo soon dominated the paint while getting help from Lassiter, Matt Ganuelas-Rosser and Brian Heruela, setting the stage for Santos to make the crucial plays on both ends.
Rosario registered 15 points and 13 rebounds but the KaTropa dropped to 1-2, joining the Alaska Aces, Meralco Bolts and Rain or Shine Elasto Painters for a share of eighth to 11th places.
Meanwhile, Magnolia and NLEX clash tonight at the Smart Araneta Coliseum, seeking their third win in four games and climb to solo second in the standings.
Focus will center on the matchup between Magnolia veteran Paul Lee and NLEX rookie Kiefer Ravena in the 6:45 p.m. affair, but both teams are also keeping their eyes on other players who may step up.
Magnolia is coming off a 124-77 rout of Kia last Wednesday, but not after recovering from a lackluster first half while NLEX seeks to bounce back from a 102-95 defeat to Phoenix exactly a week ago.
Lee and Ravena will meet for the first time in their careers, with the latter having an impressive start to his PBA career.
Ravena, chosen second in the draft, was compared by NLEX coach Yeng Guiao to Lee, his player for six years when he was at Rain or Shine.
In the first game, Alaska shoots for a second straight win after a 0-2 start against a Kia team looking to put the dismal loss to Magnolia aside.
Alaska coach Alex Compton will face Kia counterpart Ricky Dandan, his first mentor when he made his Philippine debut 20 years ago for the Manila Metrostars of the defunct Metropolitan Basketball Association.
Dandan attempts to secure his first PBA win after his debut ended on an ugly note when the Picanto allowed the Hotshots to go on a 49-point turnaround in the second half after a slim halftime lead.
SAN MIGUEL 88 – Fajardo 20, Lassiter 15, Santos 15, Cabagnot 11, Ganuelas-Rosser 8, Pessumal 7, Ross 5, Heruela 5, De Ocampo 2, Semerad 0, Mamaril 0, Lanete 0.
TNT KATROPA 76 – Rosario 15, Tautuaa 12, Pogoy 11, Castro 9, Garcia 9, Williams 9, Semerad 6, Reyes 5, Golla 0, Carey 0, Torres 0, Onwubere 0.
Quarters: 14-24; 35-36; 58-61; 88-76.