The San Miguel Beermen finally started a conference on a winning note after stopping the Phoenix Fuel Masters 130-119 in their PBA Governors' Cup opener on Wednesday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
"Finally we had a good start after winning a championship. We always struggled," coach Leo Austria said.
Import Dez Wells poured in 42 points on 14-of-27 shooting and added eight rebounds and seven assists for the Beermen.
"The way he played in Macau, I know he can do it here. In Macau, there were a lot of big players, seven-footers, but here with an import limit of 6-5 I think he can do well. What we liked from him is he's not selfish. He plays with the team. He can pass, he can defend and he's really a leader," Austria said.
The win was made more impressive by the short rest San Miguel was playing on. After coming off a fourth-place finish in The Terrific 12 in Macau two days ago, the Beermen immediately faced a tough challenge against a Phoenix side that was bent on bouncing back from their opening night loss last week.
The Fuel Masters played catch-up for most of the match but slowly chipped away to come to within four, 79-75, with 7:53 left in the third frame. San Miguel then turned it up a notch after a timeout and unfurled a monstrous 24-2 outburst behind Arwind Santos and Alex Cabagnot -- who capped off that run with a layup to help the Beermen build a 103-77 lead. That sizeable advantage gave San Miguel enough room to endure the Fuel Masters' fourth-quarter rally. Phoenix outscored them 36-25 in the final 12 minutes.
"Our participation in The Terrific 12 helped us a lot. We had bonding and were able to bring that experience here. The team really wanted to win. I'm surprised they had a lot of energy in spite of a very hectic schedule," Austria said in Filipino.
Cabagnot chipped in with 23 points, five rebounds and three assists, while Santos added 18 points and eight boards in the win. June Mar Fajardo also played through a sore ankle and finished with 17 points, 13 boards and four blocks in 36 minutes.
"We're happy he's back but you can see he's still struggling a bit because he doesn't have some wind in him. Long layoff, but he kept focusing on the game because they thought of the first game. We don't want to struggle this conference because we know every game is important," Austria said.
Eugene Phelps put up 41 points, 20 boards and six dimes for Phoenix, which slid to 0-2 in the standings. Matthew Wright chipped in 18 points but he only made seven of 22 shots.
Austria said SMB will take a day off before preparing for their next game against Alaska on Sunday, September 29.
"Maybe tomorrow we'll take a break to gain some energy because until now, the players are just forcing themselves to play. They're really, really tired. But although Alaska is 0-2, we cannot take them for granted. Every game is important, especially in the format. We should be in the top four to gain a twice-to-beat advantage," he said.
San Miguel (130) - Wells 42, Cabagnot 23, Santos 18, Fajardo 17, Nabong 9, Ross 8, Romeo 7, Pessumal 6, Ganuelas-Rosser 0, Standhardinger 0.
Phoenix (119) - Phelps 41, Wright 18, Perkins 14, Napoles 9, Jazul 8, Garcia 7, Intal 6, Marcelo 6, Mallari 6, Chua 2, Dennison 2, Wilson 0, Kramer 0.
Quarters: 31-26, 70-55, 105-83, 130-110.
Austria said Marcio Lassiter is two weeks away from returning from his left knee injury.
Phoenix committed seven of its 16 turnovers during that huge Beermen run in the third quarter.
San Miguel vs. Alaska (0-2) on September 29 at the Sta. Rosa Multi-Purpose Complex in Laguna.
Phoenix vs. TNT (1-0) on October 2 at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.