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Cafe France, Phoenix dispute finals spot in colossal finals rematch

PBA (file photo)

By Ivan Saldajeno

BACOOR--Many expected Cafe France-CEU and Phoenix to lock horns in the finals of the PBA D-League Foundation Cup after their memorable Aspirants Cup championship series.

But after a wild series of events especially late in the eliminations, they now have to settle the score in the semifinals.

The Bakers, the defending Foundation Cup champs, and the Accelerators, the eventual Aspirants Cup holders, collide in the Final Four round of the season-ending conference at the Strike Gym on Thursday night at 6 p.m.

However, Cafe France's back is against the wall for this one as Phoenix holds a twice-to-beat advantage in their semifinal clash.

Good thing for the Bakers, though, is that Coach Egay Macaraya will return to their bench after serving his one-game suspension against the Mindanao Aguilas on Tuesday, which they soundly won.

"We'll prepare hard for the semis," vowed Assistant Coach Mike Buendia, who temporarily took over Macaraya's role against Mindanao.

Also making a return is Rod Ebondo, who is now fully recovered from flu.

Meanwhile, despite holding the semifinal bonus, Phoenix coach Eric Gonzales does not want his team to be complacent.

"That's our goal: to make it back to the Finals, but there's no guarantee yet," said Gonzales. "We need to study and work with our own hands together."

In the other semifinal pairing at 4 p.m., Racal looks to avert an encore of Tanduay's twice-to-beat slaying.

The Rhum Masters were the only lower-seeded team to make the Aspirants Cup semifinals, completely shattering the UP-QRS-JAM Fighting Maroons' twice-to-beat edge in the quarterfinals and eventually ousting them.

However, two of UP-QRS-JAM's non-Maroons in its lineup, Kevin Ferrer and Gelo Alolino, have since joined Tanduay as the former sets its sights on the upcoming UAAP season, and having the former RP Youth Team standouts with the already competitive Tanduay roster could give Coach Caloy Garcia problems entering the game.

But with Jonathan Grey and Philip Paniamogan stepping up for the Tile Masters, who lost Jio Jalalon and Jason Perkins due to their collegiate commitments, they are still expected to cruise past the Rhum Masters.

"They were playing to prove that they can win games without [Jio and Jason]," Garcia said.

For Coach Lawrence Chongson, on the other hand, he wants the other players to step up especially if Ferrer sputters.

"Kevin Ferrer will only be Kevin Ferrer if he can't carry us through in the playoffs," Chongson said.

Follow him on Twitter: @IvanSaldajeno