Manila, June 16, 2003 By Nelson Beltran (Star) It became a down-to-the-wire game not reflected in the score. And curiously in the end, the loser had much more to celebrate than the winner.

Sta. Lucia Realty clinched a slot in the Samsung PBA All-Filipino Cup Final Four last night as it reduced a 20-point deficit at the outset of the final half to only nine at the finish versus Alaska Milk, 66-75 in their crucial game at the Araneta Coliseum.

Alaska missed an outright semis entry but made it just the same with the help of San Miguel Beer which walloped FedEx, 96-87, later in the night.

Nic Belasco scored a career-high 29 points and pulled down 12 rebounds as the Beermen foiled the Express’ bid for a sudden-death against the Aces.

The Realtors advanced to the crossover semis against the Coca-Cola Tigers while the Aces reached the next round against the Talk N Text Phone Pals. The best-of-five semis duels start Wednesday at the Philsports Arena.

Missing an outright semis passage with only a nine-point win over Sta. Lucia, Alaska coach Tim Cone scored the referees after the game, saying they failed because of the officiating. The Aces needed to win by at least 18 to avoid a possible playoff.

"I’m disappointed with the referees. We’d got a chance to get it, but when we got up by 17, we didn’t get the call and I don’t know why. Maybe because we have so many Fil-Ams," rued Cone.

Cone didn’t take anything away from Sta. Lucia, though, saying the Realtors deserved to be in the semis. "They played extremely well in their first two games in the quarterfinals. They competed well tonight even without (the injured) Kenneth (Duremdes)," he said.

Actually, the Aces even held an 18-point lead, 69-51, midway through the last quarter but went scoreless in the last 5:24 of play, losing the chance for an outright semis entry in the process.

"Hindi naman pwede iyon. Kita niyo naman noong
crucial moments na, trinabaho na sila ni Marlou (Aquino)," said Sta. Lucia coach Alfrancis Chua on the danger of losing by 18.

Chua said they terribly missed the services of Duremdes. "Hindi nakapag-adjust ang mga wingmen ko. Pero hindi ko naman talaga pwedeng hingin sa kanila ang ibinibigay ni Kenneth," the emotional Sta. Lucia mentor said.

With the Realtors down by 17, 41-58, after the third quarter, Aquino buckled down to work in the final canto, scoring 13 of his game-high 22 points in the period. He also logged nine rebounds, three blocks and two assists in the contest.

The Aces came out strong and dominated the Realtors throughout while lording it over the boards. Alaska outrebounded Sta. Lucia, 61-31, with EJ Feihl snaring a career-high 18 caroms, Don Allado adding 12 and John Arigo and Ali Peek combining for 17.

Alaska tookt he half at 41-26 and posted its biggest lead at 46-26 on a six-point opening binge by Cortez, Peek and Don Camaso in the third quarter.

PBA NOTES: San Miguel coach Jong Uichico failed to land int the semifinals for only the second time in his coaching career starting in 1999. He missed the semis for the first time in his very first All-Filipino tourney. "Noong una ang pakiramdam ko parang katapusan na ng mundo. This time, it’s just another game na lang. Charge it to experience," said Uichico."Wala na kasing sasakit pa doon sa talo naman against Korea (in the Busan Asian Games cross over semifinals)."….. The Realtors missed a fat incentive of a quadruple of their regular won-game bonus on their loss to the Aces. "Talagang gusting-gustong manalo ni Boss Buddy (Encarnado), kasi hindi na nakakarating sa semis ng All-Filipino ang team," said Chua… Going into the semifinals, the current All-Filipino tourney has had 102 games played. The previous most number of games in a conference was 94 in the 2001 All-Filipino Cup…

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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