Chris Newsome and Cliff Hodge put on a vengeful show to guide Meralco past NLEX, 97-86, in the rubber match of their quarter-final series on Friday night, which completed the Philippine Cup semi-final.
Chained by no more than seven points each in Game 1, the Bolts’ top guns hit crucial baskets in the second frame as the No. 2 Seeds went on to win over Don Honorio Ventura State University in Bacolor, Pampanga and a Final Four clash sealed with third ranked Magnolia.
Meralco, who was also in the bubble in the semi-finals last season before being bundled by eventual champion Barangay Ginebra, was the only team to play the full route in this round, brought to a KO match by the short-handed Road Warriors, which came out to an 81-80 win on Wednesday thanks to a game-winning lay-up by rookie Calvin Oftana.
1 seed TNT only needed one match to defeat the Gin Kings and end their reign, while San Miguel Beer and Magnolia defeated their respective best-of-three foes to continue.
“Getting to the semi-finals is no longer the goal. Now the goal is to make it to the All-Filipino final,” said coach Norman Black.
Newsome finished with 23 points, nine rebounds and six assists, while Hodge had 16 points and nine boards as Meralco now set his sights on a new hurdle: dealing with a Hotshots crew that clicks on all cylinders led by Best Player of the Year. Conference leader Calvin Abueva.
Don Trollano started on one of the holding positions and led the Road Warriors with 19 points, while Oftana shot 14 that went with 11 rebounds.
“Certainly if we could have finished it a few days ago we would have loved to – we would have saved ourselves one game and had a little more practice time,” said Black.
“But going forward, I’m just glad our guys are out of protocol again because that can really hurt your team losing guys for weeks,” he added.
Anjo Caram and veteran Reynel Hugnatan were the others in double digits ahead of Black, with Caram scoring 16 points and Hugnatan coming off the bench to score 11.
It has been a while
Abueva leads the hard-fought race for the best player award, but taking home the accolade is the furthest thing from the do-it-all striker’s mind, even as it cements his status as one of the league’s best all-around players .
And that’s understandable, as Magnolia continues to hunt for this year’s all-Filipino title.
“As I’ve told coach (Chito Victolero), that would only be a bonus if I ever win it,” Abueva said in Philippine on Thursday night, shortly after pushing the Hotshots past Rain or Shine by a stunning 20 points and 19 rebounds in a 96-86 Game 2 win.
“My mentality was to go to the final,” he continued. “And win [the title] because that’s what the whole team wants. For the coaching staff, the players, the utility personnel, it really is the championship. That’s where the biggest bonus is, and that’s our biggest goal for next Christmas and New Year.”
Abueva, who was taken over by Magnolia just before the season, is proving to be the league’s problem child at some point. His averages of 16.1 points, 9.7 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 1.0 steals and 1.3 blocks speak of his fit for a team full of stars and role players.
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