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MANILA, Philippines – Coach Jeff Cariaso knew Alaska was taking a gamble by switching imports from Olu Ashaolu to Mark St. Fort at the last minute with the Aces’ PBA Governors’ Cup fate on the line.
But that risk somehow paid dividends as St. Fort helped Alaska force a rubber match against twice-to-beat NLEX in the quarterfinals with a come-from-behind 93-79 victory on Wednesday, March 16.
Although his numbers did not jump off the stats sheet, St. Fort proved to be a complementary piece for the Aces after tallying team-highs of 17 points and 14 rebounds.
“We know that bringing in an import at this time was a risk. And it still is a risk,” Cariaso said. “But I think at that point, we just really had no choice.”
Battling a myriad of injuries, Ashaolu fought through pain on the way to keying Alaska to a 6-5 record at the end of the elimination round.
Cariaso bared Ashaolu – who averaged 18.6 points, 11.6 rebounds, and 3.1 assists in 11 games – dealt with injures on his calf, hamstring, and shoulder.
But as much as Ashaolu has jelled well with the Aces, Cariaso and his staff felt the need to bring in a healthy reinforcement for their last playoff run in franchise history.
“Olu is a tremendous professional and I mean that from the bottom of my heart. He reminds me, in regard to work ethic and attitude, he reminds me of Sean Chambers,” said Cariaso, referring to the Aces’ iconic import.
“A guy that comes in and gets along with everyone, works hard, is very demanding from himself and his teammates. But he is really a good guy off the court.”
“So it was really hard to replace him. But I think in this regard, you have to weigh out the fact that his chronic injuries prevented him from being the Olu that we know.”
The concern, though, for St. Fort is his ability to develop chemistry with the Alaska locals in such short period of time considering he has not even been in the country for a week.
Cariaso looks to address that issue in the next two days before the Aces tangle with the Road Warriors in their do-or-die clash on Saturday, March 19.
“If we can improve ourselves from tonight, I think we have a good chance. Guys are gonna come in confident, but not overconfident,” Cariaso said. – Rappler.com