- If Kenneth Duremdes shows up today and plays for Sta. Lucia, Coca-Cola coach Chot Reyes and his charges will be ready.

"We always prepare for Sta. Lucia with the idea that Kenneth is going to play. Even before (Game 1), our preparations were based on the scenario of Duremdes suiting up for them," said Reyes.

Even without Duremdes, the Realtors cruised to a 90-87 win last Sunday and forged a 1-1 count in their best-of-five semis duel with the Tigers. The win reduced the series to a best-of-three starting tonight at the Philsports Arena.

Preceding the match is Game 3 of the Talk N Text-Alaska battle, also tied at 1-1 after an 86-77 victory by the Aces also last Sunday.

Duremdes, who scored 42 and 40 points in his only two playoff games this season, strained his right calf muscle and has missed the first two games of the semis. But medical tests last week indicated he might be able to suit up today.

Efforts to contact him and Sta. Lucia coach Alfrancis Chua yesterday proved futile.

Chua, however, had hinted last week that Duremdes might stay on the bench an extra day, but Reyes is not one to gamble on chances, especially with Marlou Aquino taking over the scoring chore from Duremdes.

The 6-foot-9 Aquino scored 31 points to lead five teammates in double figures as Sta. Lucia rebounded from a 70-85 loss in Game 1.

"It proves na kaya naming manalo even without Kenneth," said Chua.

While the Tigers have the benefit of a barometer of sorts-the performance of Sta. Lucia's twin-tower combination of Aquino and skipper Dennis Espino-the Phone Pals will have to deal with something more constant as they try to regain the upperhand in their own best-of-five series against the Aces.

John Arigo had 32 points while Talk N Text's comeback machine conked out at in the face of his virtually unstoppable offensive onslaught.

The Phone Pals stared at 12-point deficits in the second half before launching a massive rally in the final canto, coming to within two points going into the final minutes of the match. But whatever magic they wove in Game 1, where they overcame a six-point deficit with 18 seconds remaining to hammer out a 115-109 overtime win, deserted them when they needed it most.

Arigo finished with 32 points as he shot over defenders in leading Alaska to victory. It did not help that Phone Pals coach Joel Banal favored a small lineup, often having two point guards on the floor at the same time.

Aside from Arigo's offense, Talk N Text will also have to find ways to go around the box-and-one and triangle-and-two defenses the Aces have thrown at main man Asi Taulava.

The Phone Pals managed to keep a high-octane offense despite those half-zone formations in Game 1 mainly because they shot a scorching 58 percent clip (11-of-19) from beyond the arc. Last Sunday, they shot a horrific 1-for-21 from the three-point area.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved