Mike DiGregorio believes last season's playoff debacle against Meralco will help the Blackwater Elite when they face off with the Phoenix Fuel Masters for the remaining top four playoff spot in the 2018 PBA Governors' Cup Sunday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Barangay Ginebra, Magnolia and Alaska already secured the top three spots, along with the twice-to-beat advantage heading into the playoffs. Blackwater and Phoenix will enter the game with similar 7-3 records.
Both teams are coming off victories but DiGregorio said the Elite spent a great deal of time over the holiday break watching film and discussing Phoenix's tendencies, as well as their tough quarterfinal loss to Meralco in the same conference last season.
"We talked about (our playoff loss to Meralco), about that feeling we had when we lost, which left a bitter taste in our mouth," DiGregorio told ESPN5. "We pushed Meralco on the edge of forcing a knockout game because were up by 12 at halftime, then they made a run in the end and they snatched the win from us. We were a couple of minutes away from reaching semis."
DiGregorio said the experience from last season has made the Elite a better team. Now they're hungrier and determined to redeem themselves.
"We are bringing that experience with us because that (loss to the Bolts) is something we don't want to feel again. We got to go and get the twice-to-beat," he said.
But DiGregorio knows beating Phoenix is easier said than done because Eugene Phelps and Calvin Abueva have been carrying the Fuel Masters all conference long with their scoring, rebounding and hustle.
"I think these two guys are very, very big. Obviously, they got a lot of good players in Matt (Wright), (Jason) Perkins, RJ (Jazul), but these two guys really make them go," DiGregorio pointed out.
Phelps averages 31.0 points, 18.5 rebounds and 3.0 assists, while Abueva contributes 14.4 points, 9.3 boards and 3.3 dimes.
"They like to pressure and they like to run, especially Phelps and Abueva. When they get the defensive rebound, they like to take it coast to coast, get it to basket and try to create opportunities for their teammates," he added.
Blackwater coach Bong Ramos admitted stopping the duo of Phelps and Abueva is next to impossible, but limiting their production will be key to winning.
"As long as we play well defensively, we can contain their scorers, especially Phelps and Abueva. We all know you can't hold them scoreless," said Ramos.
As for Phoenix coach Louie Alas, he's more concerned with how the Fuel Masters will take care of the basketball and stick to their system.
"Lots of bad habits and we have to arrest them, we have to check them," Alas said.