July 18, 2018, 6:25 pm
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Beermen display sense of urgency

SOMEDAY, and maybe sooner than later, Phoenix will notch its first win under new coach Louie Alas.

The poise and consistency that Alas wanted from the Fuel Masters were instead displayed by defending champion San Miguel Beer, which rolled to a 104-96 victory last Sunday at the start of the PBA Philippine Cup ushering in the league’s 43rd season at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.

The win enabled SMB coach Leo Austria to heave a sigh of relief after being on pins and needles prior to the match.

“I think this is the worst off-season we’ve ever had because of the schedule of the players,” related Austria, bidding to steer his team to a record fourth straight all-Filipino crown.

“The players had a lot of commitments, a lot of guestings,” added Austria. “But I’m happy for them. Sa larong ito ipinakita nila na they can defend the title.”

Personally, Austria had his own concerns about the Fuel Masters, who wound up second behind Rain or Shine in a four-team pocket tournament before the season started.

“Actually, two nights akong di nakakatulog,” admitted the three-time Coach of the Year. “Phoenix played really well in the pocket tournament and if you’ve read their statements they are out there to beat us or upset anybody.” 

Those fears proved to be mostly unfounded as SMB’s vaunted starting unit, primarily responsible for the Beermen’s franchise-best .741 winning percentage off a 43-15 overall win-loss record last year, played true to form.  

Phoenix put up a respectable stand, charging back from 17 points down in the third quarter to pull within 80-85, still 6:28 left.

But June Mar Fajardo scored on a layup and combined with Marcio Lassiter on a searing 18-4 surge that pegged the match’s biggest difference at 103-84 and practically sealed the game with only 2:36 to go.

Alas, appointed head coach of the Fuel Masters after five seasons as an assistant at Alaska, took the blame for the loss.

“It’s my fault,” said Alas, referring to Fajardo’s basket that blew Phoenix’s chances of further whittling the deficit.

“Kasi alam na alam kong pupunta kay June Mar, nag-double pa rin kami sa itaas. That’s the tendency.

“From there, lumaki ‘yung lamang. Sabi ko, basta next time, I’ll be sharper. ‘Yung mga ganung situation, magkakamali ka, lalo na’t you’re trailing? Patay ka. Patay nga kami.” 

Alas’ trademark pressure defense forced SMB to 22 turnovers, but the half-baked feeling-out process between him and his players led to their downfall. 

“Iyung consistency lang,” was how Alas replied to the query on what his team needs to work on more. “Kasi didikit kami, tapos pag nagpalit kami ng tao, magbabago ‘yung laro. So hindi lang nangyayari sa isa or sa limang tao.

“Pag ginamit ko ‘yung starters ko, pag masama ‘yungs starter ko, maganda ‘yung ilalaro ng second five. Pag maganda naman ‘yung starters ko, ‘yung second five, magkakaroon ng problema.

“We just have to find the right combinations. Kahit na magpalit kami ng tao, consistent ka. And that’s my job.” 

No such problems plagued Austria, at least during the game.

“It’s a good thing na nagkaroon ng sense of urgency ang mga players dahil we cannot afford to lose in our first game because we have a title to defend,” said Austria.

“This win could give us a lot of confidence dahil laging sinasabi nila San Miguel is the team to beat. There’re a lot of teams na magaganda ang lineup. Ginebra has the big men to match up with June Mar, NLEX has a balanced roster and (TNT) came from an off-season training abroad. They are really determined to do well in this conference.”

Now Austria and SMB play a wait-and-see game as they range themselves against the other teams. 

“We have to see what kind of game ipapakita ng other teams,” said Austria. “Every team iisa mindset ngayon, nag-build up, nag-palaki. Ang kanilang battlecry is to beat San Miguel.”

Helping ease some of Austria’s worries is his team itself.

“Every time may pressure nagkakaroon ng sense of urgency ang mga players because they’re still hungry for the title,” he said. 
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