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Reigning champs test Aces‘ mettle

Ian Suyu

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VIC Manuel of Alaska will be a marked man when they collide with San Miguel Beer. / PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF PBA

Games today:
(AUF Arena)
4:00 p.m. — Terra Firma vs Northport
6:15 p.m. — Alaska vs San Miguel Beer

CLARK — Whether Alaska is a contender or a pretender would be known when it faces reigning champion San Miguel Beer in the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) Philippine Cup Saturday at the Angeles University Foundation Arena powered by Smart 5G here.

Game time is at 6:15 p.m. with the Aces facing a major test against the Beermen, who are looking for a big win to climb the team standings of this tourney that is being played inside the quarantine bubble.

Meanwhile, Terra Firma and Northport gun for their first win when they tangle in the 4 p.m. appetizer.

Save for undefeated leaders TNT Tropang Giga and Barangay Ginebra San Miguel, who fashion a 5-0 and 4-0 win-loss slates, respectively, Alaska is the league’s hottest team.

They stated slow, dropping sorry losses to TNT and Meralco in their first two games, but the Aces roared back and posted stunning wins over Magnolia, Blackwater and erstwhile undefeated Rain or Shine to capture the solo fourth spot with a 3-2 card.

Against Rain or Shine, the Aces were simply impressive.

Starting forward Kevin Racal was not around, but it was veteran Vic Manuel who carried the fight, towing the Aces to an overwhelming 89-88 win over the Elasto Painters late Thursday.

Manuel delivered 18 points, including the Aces’ last six points, to cap a blistering rally from seven points down en route to the victory.

The Elasto Painters had one final shot to eke out the win, but Rey Nambatac muffed a layup at the buzzer.

Still, the impressive win doesn’t mean anything to Alaska coach Jeffrey Cariaso.

“We’ll be facing a tough and veteran San Miguel squad. They always play hard. I’m sure they are going to be ready against us,” said Cariaso, knowing that the Beermen will throw their weight around despite the absence of reigning Most Valuable Player June Mar Fajardo and chief playmaker Terrence Romeo.

Fajardo has yet to recover from a shin injury while Romeo stepped out of the bubble after suffering a shoulder injury during their game against the Tropang Giga last week.

“I’m not saying that it’s going to be easy, but without these superstars, they are going to be a little different and that’s what we’re getting ready for.”

True enough, the Beermen have been blowing hot and cold.

Coming into the conference with one win to show from a pre-pandemic match against Magnolia, the Beermen suffered back-to-back losses before recovering with a 105-98 win over Terra Firma for a 2-2 card.

And with Romeo crashing with an injury, Beermen coach Leo Austria has to be creative to stop the rampaging Aces.

“Right now, we are trying to figure out ways on how to stop them. They had a lopsided win over Blackwater and they are playing very well,” Austria said, who captured his first PBA title at the expense of the Aces in 2014.

“Since their first game, I already saw their potential. I know that this team can become the toughest team in the bubble.”

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