Manila, August 4, 2003 By Nelson Beltran (STAR) Alaska Milk weathered a late charge by Coca-Cola to pull off an 81-78 decision that moved the team on the verge of the Samsung PBA Invitational Cup knockout semifinals at the Astrodome last night.

The Aces nearly squandered an 11-point lead in the last 2:35 of play as the Tigers put up a pressing defense, igniting a run that carried them back into the game at 71-73 with 54.7 ticks left.

But coach Tim Cone and his charges regained their bearing before it got too late, surviving Coca-Cola’s make-or-break fouling tactic as they made it two in a row following their 97-82 rout of the Magnolia-Jilin Yi Qi Tigers last Wednesday.

It was actually Alaska’s seventh straight victory counting its win over Sta. Lucia in their one-game playoff for third place in the All-Filipino and its sweep of Purefoods, Barangay Ginebra, Sta. Lucia and Shell in the Invitational qualifier.

The last time Alaska won seven games in a row was in the 1998 Commissioner’s Cup. The team went on to rule that tournament.

"We really didn’t play a pretty game until about the third quarter. And we committed silly mistakes down the stretch. Playing down the stretch has been our waterloo but I can say we’re getting better handling that," said coach Cone.

The Aces did handle the pressure well in the final seconds as they handed the Tigers a first loss in the brief tourney. The Tigers walloped the San Miguel Beermen, 98-93, last Friday.

Having seen all the teams in action, Cone thought it would be a three-team race among the Aces, the Tigers and the Beermen for the two slots in the semis in Group B. The other two teams in the bracket are Magnolia-Jilin Yi Qi and the Philippine national team.

The Tigers put up a good stand though missing the services of ace pointguard Johnny Abarrientos who suffered a sprained ankle versus the Beermen.

Leo Avenido picked up the slack by producing 15 points, including a booming trey that cut their deficit to 78-79 with 5.5 seconds left in the clock

All-Filipino Cup champion Talk N Text waylaid Lamoiyan-Novi Sad-Yugoslavia, 110-89, to tie Red Bull for the lead in Group A with identical 2-0 win-loss cards in the nightcap. The visiting squad practically bowed out of contention for the semis on a second straight loss.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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