By Dugout Philippines
QUEZON CITY--NLEX coach Yeng Guiao is being given a good glimpse of his team's future right now
Seemingly adjusted to Guiao's system, the Road Warriors finally had enough in their tank to pull the rug from under Alaska 100-92 Wednesday and barge into the win-column of the PBA Commissioner's Cup at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
It was the first victory in 10 games for NLEX and snapped it out of a 13-game winless spell that dated back to Jan. 7.
Making the victory sweeter is the fact the Road Warriors pulled it off despite an early 20-point deficit and making do with an all-Filipino line-up in the final 5:20 of play after Wayne Chism fouled out.
Good thing Kevin Alas, JR Quinahan, Alex Mallari, Juami Tiongson and Rabeh Al-Hussaini had enough composure to bring the team home in the face of unrelenting pressure from the Aces.
For Guiao, the way his charges played against a second league heavyweight in as many games just proves the re-tooling he initiated through trades earlier this month is sound, resulting in their first win in 10 games.
"Two weeks ago we made some painful decisions, hard decisions. Gusto lang namin na i-validate na at least tama ang mga ginawa namin," said Guiao.
Guiao also maintained that his side, long out of the running for the quarterfinals and despite a final eliminations game against Phoenix on Saturday, is already looking forward to the next conference.
There's enough time to savor the breakthrough and the benefits it brings.
"We caught a big fish," stressed Guiao. "Alaska is one of the best teams, hard to beat, especially with their press, especially with our team that's struggling with its confidence. Good win for us. We need a lot more situations like this to build our confidence."
The cost is indeed heavy for Alaska, which absorbed its fifth straight loss after a 4-0 start and now faces the gargantuan task of winning against either San Miguel Beer on Saturday or Star next Wednesday to gain inclusion among the top eight teams advancing to the next round.
Losses in those games and the perennial contender may be left out altogether.
Cory Jefferson led everybody with 36 points and 20 rebounds, Vic Manuel came off the bench for 17 points and Calvin Abueva and Jayvee Casio chipped in at least 10 points each for Alaska.
The game also took an additional toll when Abueva twisted his right ankle just under the final two-minute mark and had to be taken out for good with still 1:33 left.
The presence of the Gilas standout in the stretch could have helped the Aces who mainly misfired in the fourth period and found it awfully tough to match the Road Warriors' intensity and energy at crunch time.
In all, Alaska made just five of 21 shots in the fourth period to NLEX's 5-of-15 clip from the field. The team also committed 24 turnovers, causing it to loosen its hold on the game which seemed in the bag after the Aces raced to an early 20-point lead.
NLEX started turning things around with a big second quarter in which it outscored Alaska 33-13 before winning the fourth 24-17.
The real turning point came after Alas countered Jefferson's three straight points with a triple as the Road Warriors made 11 free throws inside the last 2:26 that enabled them to break away from an 89-87 count.
Tiongson turned in a career-high 16 points to go with five rebounds and four assists while Quinahan also scored 16 markers on top of seven boards and four assists. Alas also complemented Chism's 22 points with 11 points.
Emman Monfort, Jansen Rios and Asi Taulava also did their part in making up for the continued absence of Jonas Villanueva and Larry Fonacier, both recovering from bone spurs removal.
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