A cheerful coach Pido Jarencio entered the press room of the Araneta Coliseum on Saturday looking like a rejuvenated man after his NorthPort Batang Pier snapped a four-game skid in an 80-70 win over the Phoenix Fuel Masters.
"We had a lot of losses. That's four straight," Jarencio exclaimed in Filipino after the game.
It didn't come easy, just like their lone win before this one, as NorthPort needed to overcome resurgent second half effort by the Fuel Masters first before improving to 2-4.
After continuing some good first half defense in the third quarter to erect a 58-48 lead with 1:04 left in that frame, Phoenix suddenly found their bearings and rolled out a quick 8-0 blitz to pull to within three, 58-55, entering the fourth.
Five big points from Jorey Napoles to open the payoff period sparked a run that would give Phoenix its first taste of the lead -- a 61-60 advantage after a Jason Perkins jumper at the 9:12 mark -- but that would be the only time they'd stay ahead after Mychal Ammons capped a five-point burst with a dunk on the break to put the Batang Pier up front again.
Composure later became key for NorthPort, who drew insurance baskets from Ammons and Kevin Ferrer underneath for an 80-68 lead that would all but settle the result.
Mo Tautuaa led four players in double-figures with 16 points, nine rebounds and four assists, while Paolo Taha and Ammons added 14 and 12 apiece to help the Batang Pier improve to 2-4.
"That's the law of averages," Jarencio said, turning serious. "We were 0-5 against Phoenix since last season so it was about time that we won. At the same time, the players' confidence returned."
"I told them in yesterday's practice to regroup, let's refocus. Let's fix our goals, let's fix our mindset. One game at a time, and let's make stops. Our goal of holding our foes to 80 points below and grab rebounds, get on the break, we were able to achieve that somehow," he added.
NorthPort held Phoenix to only 36.4 percent shooting, including a dismal 4-for-20 mark from long range.
Alex Mallari posted 15 points and six dimes for the Fuel Masters, who fell to 2-5 and failed to follow up an impressive last-second win against Rain or Shine last Wednesday. Eugene Phelps threw in 14 points, 14 rebounds and eight assists but was held to just 5-for-14 shooting.
Ace gunner Matthew Wright played sparingly after missing the team's last game and only logged five minutes. Coach Louie Alas started Wright and later opted to sit him out due to a nagging plantar fasciitis injury. "I saw he's one step late in every situation defensively and offensively. I didn't wanna aggravate his injury so I just gave him the rest," he said. "He said he could play, but I was looking at the bigger picture. I'm reserving him for our future games instead."
Phoenix won't play for 13 days, which will allow Alas to give his days a couple of days to rest. "I'll give them 2-3 days off so they can rest their bruises and summon the fighter in them."
NorthPort (80) --Taututaa 16, Taha 14, Ammons 12, Laneta 11, Elorde 9, Ferrer 8, Bolick 5, Cruz 4, Anthony 1, Mercado 0, King 0, Escoto 0.
Phoenix (70) -- Mallari 15, Phelps 14, Perkins 10, Garica 9, Napoles 8, Jazul 6, Marcelo 2, Chua 2, Dennison 2, Kramer 2, Pots 0, Wright 0.
- A relentless NorthPort defense locked down Phoenix early and held them to just eight points on a dreary 3-for-17 mark (15 percent) in the first quarter.
- Jarencio provided a vague answer when asked whether the Batang Pier management would make any import changes soon. "I can't answer that. Just remember that nothing is permanent in this earth. OK? Whether or not someone comes around or not, someone gets replaced or not, we'll be here doing our jobs."
- Phoenix also missed JC Intal (hamstring) and LA Revilla (bone spurs). Intal might play again in their next game, but Revilla's still a bit far off. "He's still not cleared for contact [practices]. If it's not needed, I won't play him. I'm still going to look at the bigger picture," said Alas.
- NorthPort vs. San Miguel on Oct. 23 at the Cuneta Astrodome
- Phoenix vs. Columbian on Oct. 25 at the Smart Araneta Coliseum