Alaska came into the ball game knowing there’s no way they could really stop Phoenix’s gunslinger Matthew Wright.
So the Aces turned up the hustle early on.
And when it mattered the most, Alaska’s inside muscle and a low-key sharp-shooting ace delivered a 105-97 victory over Phoenix on Thursday in the Philippine Basketball Association Philippine Cup at Smart Clark Giga City.
“We knew coming in that they’re going to take a lot of threes, so we had to be ready to defend and not let it affect us once they started making [their threes],” Alaska coach Jeffrey Cariaso said after the game.
“I think that was the biggest thing,” he added. “I can’t be any more prouder. We really showed that resilience we talked about.”
Trailing through three quarters, Alaska clamped down on its foe in the fourth as it rode the torrid shooting of Mike DiGregorio and Vic Manuel to boost its record to 5-3 and improve its bid for a Top 4 berth.
DiGregorio, who was tasked with guarding Wright, scored 14 of his total 21 points in the payoff frame, while Manuel chipped in 10 of his team-best 24 points in the same period. The Aces scored 26 of the first 33 points in the fourth quarter, putting the game away at 97-82 with four minutes to play.
“Like I said, there’s no way you can stop Matthew,” Cariaso said. “You just have to make it harder for him. Make him have tough shots. That’s what [DiGregorio] was doing.”
DiGregorio’s relentless shadowing of Wright typified the kind of hustle energy that Alaska brought into the match at Angeles University Foundation. While the Aces did not have huge edges in turnovers forced (16-12) or offensive rebounds (15-14), they did milk those hustle numbers. Alaska scored 25 points off Phoenix’s errors and had 20 points off second chances. The Fuel Masters had 15 and eight in those departments, respectively.
And after a wobbly start, Alaska has a foot inside the quarterfinals’ twice-to-beat shelter.
“We’re humbly happy with our position,” Cariaso said. “Now, we’ve given ourselves an opportunity. We don’t have to rely on anyone. We’ve got control of our destiny.”
Wright still punched in his usual numbers, finishing with 27 points, nine rebounds and five assists. But that failed to prevent Phoenix from dropping to a 4-3 card.
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