Trillo on his Alaska Aces: ‘Very proud’

Jane Bracher
In spite of a rocky Philippine Cup conference that saw the Alaska Aces getting booted out in the quarterfinals, head coach Luigi Trillo is proud of his team

PROUD. Alaska Aces Luigi Trillo is proud of his team. Seen here is Alaska center Sonny Thoss fighting hard to get a basket. Photo by Nuki Sabio/PBA Images

MANILA, Philippines – In spite of a Philippine Cup conference that was filled with more downs than ups, Alaska Aces head coach Luigi Trillo “can’t be any prouder” of how his guys weathered the storm and fought back until the very end. 

“Couldn’t be prouder of our guys. Fourth game in 6 days,” he said as he emerged from the locker room after their 108-95 loss to Barangay Ginebra San Miguel on Saturday, January 25.  

The game against Ginebra was Alaska’s fourth straight do-or-die game since the end of the eliminations. They overcame tough adversity in Barako Bull and Meralco, gaining the last ticket for the playoffs at eighth, before going against top-seeded Ginebra with a twice-to-beat disadvantage to boot. 

They pulled Ginebra back down to Earth on their first game with a 104-97 win to force the rubber match. The potential upset was within reach of the revived Aces who were fueled by no less than their desire to extend their conference.

But Ginebra, who had their own frustrations after losing back-to-back for the first time in the conference against Talk ‘N Text and Alaska, was just as driven to win. 

“I think they [Ginebra] took us out of the game in the first quarter. Their energy level was different,” Trillo shared his two cents on why they lost. “They got 17 free throws first quarter and they got 39 points. Just really tough to be falling behind.”

The reigning PBA Press Corps Coach of the Year added, “They went to the drawing board, they made their adjustments. They were very physical.” 

The Aces clearly brought the energy and hustle in their first encounter in the quarterfinals. But it seemed fatigue caught up with Alaska. They sputtered and choked for air as Ginebra buried them early in the crucial deciding game. They never recovered. 

“Fatigue can be a factor,” Trillo admitted. “But you saw we worked it. Thirteen points in the end. Lumaban.” (We fought back.)

He explained that it was everything going wrong as well. Not only were the calls and breaks of the game going against them, but their opponent hammered the nail down deeper by playing well, too. 

“It was a sledge hammer,” Trillo described what happened. “It all accumulated.” 

He explained: “We tried to regroup and tell the guys to play through the mistakes and the missed calls. But after one, 3, 4, 5 [times]… It’s talagang baon. (It became too deep.) That being said, they [Ginebra] also hit shots. They deserved it, they earned it.”

WARRIOR. Trillo (far left) has always stood up for his team whenever he felt they were getting the short end of the stick. During their knockout game against Ginebra, he got a technical foul for complaining to the referees. Photo by Nuki Sabio/PBA Images

‘We win some, we learn from some’

Burying this Philippine Cup in distant memory and looking ahead, the mid-season Commissioner’s Cup won’t be any easier for the Aces. As defending champions, there will be a target carved on their backs the entire time. 

For Alaska, going through a tough opening conference and finishing eighth still has a silver lining. 

“I look at this and I don’t wanna get down on ourselves,” Trillo said. “It’s 4 games in 6 days. You’re trailing the first quarter by 18. You have 17 free throws against you. We have to be better next time.”

He added: “But at the end of the day I’m proud of the guys. We had 6 games that was either way. That’s 3 games that are really tough. Looking at it we can still learn from it.”

Having it rough now may just be exactly what they need to set themselves up for another run at the Commissioner’s Cup title, especially since it’s their title to defend. 

For reinforcement, Alaska will be bringing back their American import Robert Dozier. 

“It’s a really nice thing to have Robert Dozier back. We look forward to that.”

Dozier, 28, helped Alaska and Trillo grab its first championship since the departure of the franchise’s longtime coach Tim Cone in 2012. They swept Ginebra in the finals series to bag the 2013 PBA Commissioner’s Cup title. The 6-foot-9 Dozier also won the Best Import award for his performance.  

For the upcoming conference, Trillo says he will be putting a lot of focus on teaching his team how to handle pressure-packed games when they’re the underdog. 

“Gotta prepare these guys next time for how to encounter a knockout game like this where it’s so physical. You can only do so much,” he said.  

Thinking about how his team performed in the Philippine Cup, though it appeared they were going through the motions, Trillo is satisfied with how his team picked themselves up. 

“Hopefully we learn from that [the games they could have won but didn’t],” he said. “With basketball you’re not always on top. If you can win a championship every year that’s more than what most coaches can do. We wanna just be patient with everybody.”

Therefore, Trillo has no regrets, only lessons learned. 

“They say win some, lose some. But I’d like to think we win some and learn from some,” he said. “And I think that’s what we did. We got on a roll [late in the eliminations] but margin for error is short.”

He also says nobody among them is playing the blame game and they are ready to move past it. 

“But it is what it is. Can’t be any prouder. At the end of the day you also just can’t get mad at them. You wanna say, hey, we got more to look forward to. And I’m proud, really proud.” –