25 September 2013

Bolts 86, Barako Bull 68

The Meralco Bolts is known to be a defensive-oriented team, but not this stingy.

With their defense doing the most damage the Bolts easily hurdled Barako Bull, 86-68, Tuesday (25 September 2013) to repeat as PBA Governors Cup semifinalist at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.

Mario West scored a game-high 25 points and also anchored the defense on Barako counterpart Mike Singletary as third-seed Meralco did not put to waste its win-once advantage over the sixth-seed Energy.

It marked the second straight year the Bolts made it through to the season-ending tourney’s semis. Last year, however, they advanced as one among six teams and would not go higher than said placing.

This time, the Bolts have a chance to add on to what is already a highwater mark for the franchise in terms of finish in the elims.

In its first-ever Final 4 appearance in franchise history, Meralco takes on the winner of the San Mig Coffee-Alaska quarterfinals pairing in the best-of-five semis which the second-seeded Mixers are also trying to make short work of the seventh-ranked Aces later in the evening.

It is all about making stops, according to Bolts head coach Ryan Gregorio after his team held the Energy to the conference’s lowest score, 18 below his crew’s league-best average.

"It was really our defense. It made our game a lot easier. Our defense held up tremendously tonight," said Gregorio, who also credited his coaching staff and consultant Jong Uichico.

"In as much as I would like to really think of ways to describe our run, much of it is attributed to the coaching genius of coach Jong to prepare us defensively," related Gregorio.

"The coaching dynamics we have assembled is making its presence felt right now."

Feeling that defensive crunch the most was Singletary, who came into the game averaging a league-best 36 points, but wound up with just a PBA career-low nine points on 2-for-10 field shooting.

Singletary, who has not scored below 26 in nine previous games and is coming off a 38-point performance in an 89-91 loss to Alaska last week, was also harassed into committing a team-high five turnovers.

It was not just Singletary alone who was stymied.

Barako Bull made just 20 of 72 field goal tries and did not help its cause any by also missing 10 of its 30 free throw tries.

Ronjay Buenafe shone offensively for the Energy with 23 and rookie Keith Jensen tried to do his share with 10. But the rest of the squad fared miserably.

In contrast, West got tremendous help from Reynel Hugnatan’s 18 points and game-high 12 rebounds and at least 10 markers each from Mark Cardona and rookie Cliff Hodge.

All those combined to unwittingly help Meralco’s surge from late in the first quarter to as much as a 53-32 lead that served as a good enough cushion for Barako Bull’s late-game surge.

The Energy whittled the deficit to just 62-71, with still 7:58 left, but would come no closer as West, Hugnatan and even Sunday Salvacion combined in lending poise to the Bolts’ windup.

It's not that Barako Bull didn’t have its chances. Meralco starting point guard Mike Cortez had to leave the game and be rushed to a nearby hospital after getting cut over the right eye by a driving Singletary’s elbow, still 28.9 seconds left in the half.

"We just wanted to weather the storm when Mike sustained a cut," said Gregorio.

John Wilson, who took his turn at Singletary, also fouled out with still 7:58 left after chipping in eight points.

Meralco's ability to make the needed stops was highlighted most during the second period, when it limited Barako Bull to a paltry 1-for-20 field shooting and a total 12 points to take a 38-27 lead at the turn. (NC)

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