Having reached the Finals last conference after a long drought, Alaska is out to prove that last season’s brilliant performance is no fluke.
However, the road may be tougher for the Aces this time around, especially with the injury of top local scorer Vic Manuel sidelining him throughout the conference. FOX Sports Philippines takes a look at how the short-handed Aces will perform this conference, including the players who will be stepping up for the team.
HIGHLIGHTS FROM LAST YEAR’S PHILIPPINE CUP
Last Philippine Cup, the Aces surprised a lot of teams when they made it to the top 4 of the eliminations round with an impressive 7-4 record. However, Kiefer Ravena and the NLEX Road Warriors surprised them even more, knocking them out of the quarterfinals.
Manuel led the Aces that conference, averaging 13.9 points and 4.5 rebounds per contest. Calvin Abueva, who the team traded short after, finished his last stint as an Ace with a double-double stat line of 13.8 points and 10.3 boards per game.
Then rookie Jeron Teng also proved that he already belongs to the league, racking up averages of 13.1 points and 4.3 rebounds per contest. Curiously, head coach Alex Compton was reluctant in fielding in significant playing minutes for Gilas mainstay Carl Bryan Cruz, who was actually efficient when he plays.
Alaska’s stellar performance throughout last year came with a stiff price. Their top two scorers in last season’s All-Filipino Cup, Manuel (back injury) and Abueva (traded to Phoenix), won’t be with the team this time around. Combo guard Simon Enciso, who proved to be a steady playmaker and shooter for the Aces, will also be out for six weeks following a knee procedure.
With injuries to their two key players, look for point guard Chris Banchero to carry the leadership mantle for Alaska. Banchero, a defensive-minded guard, has been one of the best underrated players in the league for some time now. He actually led the league in assists last season with 5.9 dishes per contest, and has also found his scoring groove with 15.8 points per game in the Governors Cup. Don’t be fooled by his good looks as Banchero is steadily emerging as a top point guard in the PBA.
Another player who could step up and fill in the minutes vacated by Manuel is Carl Bryan Cruz. A stretch forward who is equally potent on both offense and defense, Cruz can be the Aces’ go-to-scorer if he remains consistent with his excellent inside-outside game. CBC actually shot a stellar 41% clip from beyond the arc during the last Philippine Cup, something that he hopes would stay the same this conference.
With a full season already under his belt, sophomore Jeron Teng will be a more dangerous weapon for the Aces. His aggressiveness and relentlessness on both ends of the floor shadowed what Compton always wants with his players, and look for him to do the same this year.
Without Manuel and Enciso, it will be difficult for Alaska to replicate their winning ways last season. Compton has also reiterated that Banchero has been hounded by several injuries for some time now, something that could limit his production this conference. Furthermore, the Aces’ key cogs are already aging. Veteran point guard JVee Casio hasn’t been as effective as before, while Sonny Thoss has slowed down with age.
If Banchero becomes fully healthy and Alaska’s young guns prove that they can lead the team, the team could finish the elimination round in the bottom half of the quarterfinals round. But Manuel’s absence is just hard to fathom for Alaska, and we could be looking at a possibility that the Aces could miss out on the playoffs this conference.
(Photo credit: PBA Images)