It wasn't a pretty result, but Alaska got the job done Friday and drew a bunch of positives it could carry into the final weeks of its preparation for the 2020 PBA Philippine Cup.
In a narrow 81-79 escape against San Miguel, the Aces were able to wrap up a worthwhile campaign in the Phoenix Super Basketball Tournament with a 2-1 record and came away with lessons on how to finish tight games.
"I was telling the team that I wish all our practice games are like this because this is where you learn the most. You learn about adjustments, you learn about lineups, it forces you to be clearer and to execute, especially defensively on our side. So the challenge was there," coach Jeff Cariaso said.
Alaska outscored the Beermen 29-11 in the third quarter and even took a 17-point early in the fourth quarter thanks to a JVee Casio trey, but it struggled to close out the undersized Beermen and even allowed them to pull within one, 79-78, after a corner three from Chris Ross kept them alive in the final 20 seconds.
The Aces held steady, though, as it drew one more bucket from Vic Manuel -- who struggled with his shot all game long (6-for-22) but banked in a tough lay-up for a three-point buffer -- and a good challenge on Alex Cabagnot, whose stepback triple for the win rolled out with three ticks left.
"On the players' side, it's them being able to get over the fact that they lost the lead and play on. That mental challenge is also something that you get out of a game like this. It's always fun, but at the same time there was a lot of learning from it," Cariaso added.
Alaska revels in its potential on offense, something that it hopes could translate in the coming conference. After being carried by Manuel and Mike DiGregorio in their first win against Phoenix and in their loss to NLEX, the Aces leaned on a prolific outing from Robbie Herndon (19 points on 7-for-13 shots and 3-for-7 3s, eight rebounds, five steals, three assists) and solid performances from Rodney Brondial (14 points, 17 boards) and rookie Barkley Ebona (10 and 10) against SMB.
Cariaso, however, said Alaska has to do better on the other end of the floor. While the Aces allowed San Miguel to shoot only 38 percent from the field (5-for-32 on 3s) after allowing NLEX to burn them on 51 percent shooting last Wednesday, Cariaso believes there are holes to be plugged before it starts its quest in the All-Filipino wars.
"Not too bad," he said of their performance in the pocket tournament. "I think we can improve a lot defensively, there's still a lot of breakdowns that we're not happy with. That's the stuff we pride ourselves on and we have to be good at it. Nice is we still have two weeks to work on it.
"We'll have a couple more practice games and then we should be better defensively with at least understanding the proper way of doing things come opening. So we should be okay."