MANILA, Philippines — Fresh off a massive upset of Philippine Cup champions San Miguel Beer, and with coach Manny Pacquiao returning to the sidelines, KIA Carnival could not carry the momentum versus a surging Barako Bull Energy Cola.
The Energy never allowed the Carnival to get a taste of the lead all game long and stayed consistent to pull off a 95-86 victory and hike to a 3-0 record in the 2015 PBA Commissioner’s Cup on Sunday, February 8 at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
“The goal is to make it 3 in a row. It’s been a long time that this franchise has won 3 consecutive games. And everybody agreed about it,” said head coach Koy Banal.
The last time Barako started a conference this strongly was when they opened the 2007 Fiesta Conference at 4-0, when the franchise was still called Air21, per PBA Head Statistician Fidel Mangonon III.
Nigerian import Solomon Alabi finished with a double-double of 26 points and 19 rebounds. The energetic 7-footer was also the ultimate rim protector in this game with 8 blocks.
Athletic forward JC Intal scattered 18 points on 7-of-15 field goals to go with 4 steals, while Chico Lanete added 10 markers.
KIA, which was down by as much as 15 late in the first half, came closest at 77-74 on a Leo Avenido triple with 6:17 left in the game.
But with more respect in their capability to win after taking down a champion team, the Carnival did not simply roll over and die.
The 7-foot-3 PJ Ramos converted a putback with under 4 minutes remaining to bring KIA to within 84-79.
But Paolo Hubalde scored a basket and Alabi made up for his previous misses with two free throws with 1:25 left to erect a 91-81 Barako edge and put the game out of reach for KIA.
“They gave us a scare. The coaching staff of KIA is doing a good job there hiring players like Avenido, Cawaling and Yee,” Banal explained.
“KIA is a different KIA. We’ve seen this even before the conference started. We already knew that this team was a different KIA. I like what coach Manny and coach Chito is doing with this team. I believe they are inspiring their players to go the extra mile.”
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Ramos had the most points of any player in this game with 34 points and 20 rebounds. Guard JR Buensuceso, whose bundle of energy kept KIA within striking distance down the stretch, contributed 14 points while LA Revilla added 10 markers and 3 assists.
Playing coach Pacquiao, who was activated in lieu of injured forward Reil Cervantes, attended his team’s game for the first time this conference.
“Oo, kailangan matutukan yun players,” Pacquiao said of why he has been more hands on in coaching as opposed to relying on his coaching staff. “Kailangan mag-focus sila sa training at sa game.” (Yes, I need to work closely with the players. They need to focus on training and in the game.)
Meanwhile, Sol Mercado was sidelined for Barako after reportedly hurting his ankle and toe in the fourth quarter of their game against Ginebra. – Rappler.com
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