Alaska weathered a strong start from Barako Bull led by Gabe Freeman, and held steady in the fourth quarter for a 99-92 win in Game Two of their quarterfinals series Wednesday at the SMART-Araneta Coliseum.
With the win, the Aces equalized the best-of-three series and forced a do-or-die matchup on Sunday.
LA Tenorio and Cyrus Baguio led the charge for Alaska with 22 and 20 points, respectively. Sonny Thoss (17 points) and Mac Baracael (16) also took up the scoring cudgels for the Aces, who drew another quiet offensive night from import Adam Parada, who had 12 points after scoring just 11 in Game One of the series.
Alaska got the win despite a hot start from Barako Bull, which led 34-28 thanks to 11 points from debuting import Gabe Freeman, who flew in Wednesday morning to replace the ineffective Reggie Okosa. But fatigue quickly showed for the two-time Best Import awardee, who was held scoreless in the second and third quarters.
Alaska used a 10-0 run in the second quarter to tie the game, 48-all at halftime. The Aces continued their hot shooting, opening the second half with a 15-5 run to take a double-digit advantage.
Down 14 points, 77-63, at the start of the fourth quarter, Barako Bull threatened to rally behind a combined 21 points by Freeman and Danny Seigle in the final period. Missed free throws late in the game by Alaska left the door open for Barako Bull, which cut the lead to five points, 97-92, on a three-pointer by Miller with 45.2 seconds left.
But two free throws by Tenorio sealed the game for Alaska, which is now one game away from making its first PBA final four appearance since the departure of Tim Cone.
Alaska coach Joel Banal, however, remained wary of Barako Bull, which he expects to bounce back on Sunday.
“We have to be smart with our preparation,” he said. “We need to try to anticipate the adjustments [of Barako Bull].”
The Aces also have to brace for a better performance from Freeman, who scored 22 points despite battling jetlag and practicing just once with his new team.
“Freeman, come Sunday, he’s going to know where he’s going to get his shots,” said Banal. “We need to be ready for Freeman’s breakout game.”
ALASKA – Tenorio 22, Baguio 20, Thoss 17, Baracael 16, Parada 12, Eman 7, Gonzales 3, Custodio 2, Reyes 0
BARAKO BULL – Freeman 22, Seigle 19, Tubid 15, Miller 13, Allado 8, Pennisi 6, Arboleda 5, Pena 4, Gatumbato 0, Najorda 0, Weinstein 0, Salvador 0
» Can Alaska Aces repeat ’90s dynasty? Only history will tell, says Fred Uytengsu
» VIDEO | Luigi Trillo talks about journey to lead Alaska Aces to championship
» Former coach Tim Cone happy for Alaska Aces in first championship without him