17 December 2011

Bolts 84, Petron 91

Bolts vs Petron
Through three quarters, Alex Cabagnot was having a bad night.

When the game called for experience to step forward, Petron Blaze's premier guard was the first to fall in line.

Cabagnot detonated a 12-0 bomb in the fourth quarter with rare back-to-back four-point plays – likely a first in the league -- and the Boosters wiggled out from a close contest to whip Meralco, 91-84, and move to within a win of advancing to the semifinal round of the PBA Philippine Cup Friday night (16 December 2011) at the Araneta Coliseum.

One of the tournament's leading candidates for the Best Player of the Conference first completed his four-point play by knocking down a three-point shot at the top of the key and drawing a foul from Chico Lanete, and then repeated the unusual offensive brilliance against Chris Timberlake at the right corner in the Boosters’ next possession.

Cabagnot then fed Rob Reyes for a wide open jumper, and rookie Chris Lutz, playing in his first game after missing Petron’s previous five and seven of the last eight, made it a 12-point ballgame after connecting on a reverse lay-up as Petron Blaze took a 80-68 lead and never looked back.

"He always takes charge," said Petron coach Ato Agustin of Cabagnot. "Dinadala talaga niya 'yung team. He can defend, he can score, he can pass. He really prepared hard for this series."

Even Bolts' coach Ryan Gregorio was impressed.

"That's what you call experience," he said. "We were aware of what Cabagnot can do, but we somehow lost focus when we tied the game at 68. He was just spectacular. He played for 44 minutes and still hit the big shots."

Cabagnot finished with 14 points – 10 coming in the fourth – flicked eight assists and pulled down seven rebounds as the Boosters moved a win away from a second straight semifinal stint and eighth in the last nine conferences.

The Boosters can wrap up the best-of-three quarter-final round series on Wednesday and set up a return bout with defending champion Talk 'N Text, which was the first ballclub to make it to the Final Four after eliminating Barako Bull last Wednesday, 81-79.

"In a short series, a 1-0 lead is really a big advantage," said Agustin. "We just have to make it sure that we don’t lose focus on Wednesday. I'm pretty sure that Meralco and coach Ryan (Gregorio) will come up with adjustments."

Arwind Santos had 19 points and 12 rebounds for Petron, Lutz added 18 points on 6-of-11 shooting, while Rob Reyes contributed 12 points, which matched his career-high.

"Not only is Cabagnot a scoring point guard, he's also a facilitator," said Gregorio. "He feeds Arwind, Lutz, and Reyes."

Sol Mercado collected 18 points, six assists and five rebounds, Gabby Espinas had 13 points and Mark Cardona contributed 12 points and five steals for the Bolts, who are eyeing to make their first semifinal round appearance in only their second season in the league.

Petron actually led by as many as 13 in the third quarter at 60-47 after Reyes had a split with 4:38 left to play.

But the Bolts fought back with their own run, chopping it down to within 60-59 after Cardona converted on a fast-break.

The two ballclubs, which split their head-to-head duel in the elimination round then battled toe-to-toe early in the fourth, before Meralco had a critical collapse in defense.

Yet the Bolts still managed to fight back after dropping behind by 12, coming to within 86-80.

Unfortunately, Cabagnot was there again to save the Boosters, driving strong to the basket for a lay-up to practically seal the outcome with just 90 seconds left to play.

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