ANTIPOLO—Alaska has hurdled nearly every obstacle put in its way since the announcement of the franchise’s exit from the Philippine Basketball Association, with different players stepping up each time.
And when the Aces faced a different challenge Saturday night, they found another hero in RK Ilagan, who hit a step-back, buzzer-beating jumper to give the club a 94-93 Governors’ Cup victory over erstwhile leader Meralco at Ynares Center here.
“I know I sound like a broken record saying that, but that’s really what we’re focused on—really, just … surviving today,” Alaska coach Jeff Cariaso told the Inquirer as his charges rose to 6-3 (win-loss) overall.
Ilagan dusted off Meralco’s Bong Quinto and helped Alaska from totally wasting a 17-point lead in the third frame. This marks Alaska’s third victory in the four games since ownership announced that the franchise was leaving the league at the end of the season .
After deftly eluding his defender and making the shot, Ilagan made a beeline toward the other side of the court, his teammates chasing him down for a celebratory mobbing.
“It was really all about the trust coach Jeff had in me, giving me the last shot. I just feel blessed that I got to hit it and we ended up winning. Simply thankful for my other coaches and my teammates in believing in me,” he said.
“He’s really earned that trust,” said Cariaso. “RK comes in and has a tremendous work ethic … [H]e’s always preparing and making himself better, preparing himself for games like this, so it was easy to trust him.”
Ilagan finished with 11 points, six of which all came down the stretch. His fine play preserved the heroics of Mike DiGregorio, who finished with 21, and import Olu Ashaoulu, who scored just as much before getting ejected halfway through the final frame.
Allein Maliksi finished with 32 points for Meralco, which suffered only its second loss in the tournament and slid to 6-2.
Alaska is on pace to make the playoffs and a Top 4 finish remains within reach—meaning it could get first-round protection in the playoffs and boost its bid to leave the league on the saddle of a championship.
“This feels great. But don’t get me wrong, but we’re not looking at standings because we know you can get from No. 3 to No. 6 in one or two games,” Cariaso said.
“The standings aren’t really what we’re focused on but who we’re playing next, making sure we’re ready and mentally stop killing ourselves.”
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