Limited the last time out, Perpetual Help’s prized import Bright Akhuetie unleashed his full force, with defending champion Letran on the receiving end of his fury.
The 6-foot-7 Akhuetie asserted his usual dominance on Friday night to help the Altas pull the rug from under the erstwhile streaking Knights 61-55 and get their title campaign back on track in the 92nd NCAA seniors basketball tourney at The Arena in San Juan City.
Benched in the final frame of their 70-88 loss dealt by host San Beda last Tuesday, Akhuetie held the fort down low with 21 points and 16 rebounds on top of three blocks and two assists while anchoring the Altas’ sustained defensive pressure on the rough-shooting Knights.
“We actually tried to make sure we bounce back from that loss against San Beda,” said Akhuetie, adding he doesn’t mind if Perpetual Help coach Jimwell Gican didn’t utilized him to the hilt against the Red Lions.
“It’s the coach’s decision. Who am I? My job is to play,” stressed the Nigerian. “When I go in, I always give my best. It’s up to the coach if he’ll pull me out.”
Also coming up big in the Altas’ third win in five games were wingman Jeffrey Coronel and guard Keith Pido, who came through with five points each during their solid stance in the stretch where they fended off the Knights’ repeated rallies.
“On behalf of our coaching staff, gusto namin ibigay ‘yung credit sa mga players,” said Gican, who’s visibly pleased with how the Altas made life miserable for the Knights, who saw their four-game winning streak come to a halt, dropping to 4-2 overall.
“Actually nag focus talaga kami sa defense. After game ng San Beda, nag-prepare kami kasi naalarma kami sa ginawa ni (Rey) Nambatac na 40 points. Kaya depensa ang tinutukan namin,” added Gican, referring to the Letran star who they limited to just 19 markers on 6-of-14 shooting from the field.
Chiefly typifying the Altas’ solid defensive stand was Akhuetie, who swatted an attempt by Knights counterpart Jom Sollano and turned it into an easy outlet pass to Coronel for an unmolested lay-up, virtually pegging the final count with 28.1 seconds to play.
“My teammates, the guys on the bench, they didn’t stop pushing me,” beamed Akhuetie. “I tried to make sure to give my best and make them happy. I just had to do what i had to do.”
Gican also justified his decision in managing the minutes of Akhuetie and fellow Nigerian Prince Eze, two of the Altas dealing with injuries so far.
“Ayaw namin mag take ng risk sa players. Ayaw namin i-push sa limit lalo ‘pag hindi na kaya. Mahaba pa ang tournament,” he said. – By Jerome Lagunzad
PERPETUAL HELP (61) – Akhuetie 21, Dagangon 14, Coronel 13, Pido 7, Dizon 2, Eze 2, Singontiko 2, Hao 0, Oliveria 0, Sadiwa 0, Yuhico 0.
LETRAN (55) – Nambatac 19, Calvo 12, Apreku 6, Quinto 6, Sollano 6, Pambid 4, Dela Pena 2, Ambohot 0, Balagasay 0, Balanza 0, Bernabe 0, Luib 0, Sario 0, Ular 0.
Quarterscores: 6-9, 27-26, 46-44, 61-55.