By Michael Angelo S. Murillo
THE PBA Philippine Cup enters the semifinal phase today with the defending champions San Miguel Beermen and Barangay Ginebra San Miguel Kings getting their best-of-seven series going.
A reengagement of last year’s championship match in the season-opening Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) tournament, the two teams look to establish early control by claiming the opener set for 7 p.m. at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
The Beermen entered the semifinal round after topping the elimination round with an 8-3 record before dispatching the TNT KaTropa in their quarterfinal pairing, finding no need to use their twice-to-beat advantage.
Reigning league most valuable player June Mar Fajardo has been leading the team with averages of 22.8 points, 13.3 rebounds and 2.1 blocks while guard Marcio Lassiter has been good for 16.8 points, 5.5 rebounds and 3.2 assists.
Arwind Santos is also averaging a double-double of 16.5 points and 10.5 rebounds and Chris Ross 11.7 points, 5.9 rebounds and 6.6 assists.
Point guard Alex Cabagnot missed much of the team’s tournament assignments so far but has been averaging 17.8 points, 6.4 rebounds and 4.2 assists.
Facing the Kings anew, San Miguel said they expect Barangay Ginebra to be determined to get back at them in the about-to-start semifinal series.
“We will have to ready and come back relaxed and recharged for what we expect to be a tough best-of-seven series,” said San Miguel coach Leo Austria after their win in their last game.
Barging into the semifinals, the Kings heaved a sigh of relief, viewing the quarterfinals as a key juncture in any tournament.
“It’s always a big relief to get through the quarters. It puts such a pressure on you to make the semifinals all the time. To me, in my career, it’s the hardest series to win. So when you finally get through it, it’s just truly a relief,” said Barangay Ginebra coach Tim Cone following their sweep of the Rain or Shine Elasto Painters in their best-of-three quarterfinal series.
The winningest coach in the PBA went on to say that against the Beermen their work is cut out for them.
“We will now face the monster and that’s San Miguel. You can refer that to San Miguel or you can refer that to June Mar. I don’t know what you do with that but we have them coming up,” said Mr. Cone, who also expressed hope that Kings big man Greg Slaughter would be ready in time for the semifinal series off an ankle sprain.
Mr. Slaughter has been steady for Barangay Ginebra in the Philippine Cup, averaging 17.7 points, 10.4 rebounds and 1.7 blocks.
Japeth Aguilar is leading the team in scoring with 19.3 points per ball game to go along with 8.1 rebounds and 1.4 blocks while guard LA Tenorio has been chipping in 14.8 points, 4.3 rebounds and 5.2 assists.
Scottie Thompson, for his part, has been all-around for Barangay Ginebra with norms of 11.2 points, 11.2 rebounds and 5.7 assists.
In the other semifinal pairing, meanwhile, are the Magnolia Hotshots and NLEX Road Warriors. They begin their own best-of-seven series on Saturday at 6:30 p.m. also at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.