KUALA LUMPUR, August 21, 2003 (MALAYA) By NOLI CORTEZ  - The Philippines-Cebuana Lhuillier team got off to a slow start finished strong to turn back Thailand 83-56 Tuesday in the opening of the Southeast Asian Basketball Championship here.

PBL stars Gary David and Emerson Oreta combined for nine points in an 11-0 sput by the RP team in the second

quarter as the Filipinos put the outcome beyond doubt.

The win placed the Philippines in a strong position for the title in the single-round robin tourney which awards the crown to the team with the best record.

The nationals were to face Vietnam late Wednesday before going up against Malaysia Thursday. The host squad defeated Vietnam 90-75 in the other opening-day match.

"It took the boys sometime to focus on the game but came together later," said coach Aric del Rosario, referring to the RP team's sluggish start which allowed the Thais to momentarily take the lead 24-23 on a jumper by Dilip Rai with 4:48 left in the second period.

That jump shot silenced the sizeable Filipino crowd made up of students and employees working here at the Malaysia Basketball Association gym, and for a moment cast doubts on the Filipinos' resolve to win.

But David, 24, erased that lead with a three-pointer and followed it up with a fastbreak layup. Oreta, Del Rosario's former go-to guy at University of the Santo Tomas, also finished back-to-back fastbreaks after that.

Former Far Eastern hotshot Celino Cruz capped the run with a long jumper to give the Philippines a 34-24 cushion that ballooned to as much as 28 points (76-48) midway through the fourth period.

"We know we can easily beat them so we were very eager to score points and build a big margin over them," said the 6-foot-2 David, who is on his first overseas assignment as member of the national team. "But the coach told us to just relax."

Just as the team loosened up, things fell into place with David, Jean Marc Pingris and Nelbert Omolon attacking the paint while helping hold the Thais scoreless in the first six minutes of the fourth quarter.

Peek named best player of Invt'l (MALAYA) By NOLI CORTEZN

Alaska center Ali Peek was named the Best Player of the Samsung PBA Invitationals yesterday, edging Coca-Cola's own workhorse, Rudy Hatfield, for the award.

The 6-foot-6 Peek was the hands-down choice among media members who gave him 1,258 votes. He nipped teammate John Arigo in the statistical race (475-451) and was second in players' balloting (526).

This helped him offset the zero vote he got from the four-man committee made up of representatives from the PSA, SCOOP, photographers and TV coveror. In all, he had 2,259 points.

Peek received the award before Game 2 of the Invitational finals between Alaska and Coca-Cola still going on at presstime.

It was only the second career award for the US-born Peek following his selection to the Mythical First Team in his rookie year in 2001.

Peek worked hard for it throughout the conference. He had five double-doubles for the Invitationals and 15 for the entire season. Through the first game of the finals, Peek averaged 18.7 points, 9.7 rebounds and 62 percent field goal shooting.

The award also made him an instant candidate for the season Most Valuable Player plum after Talk N Text's Asi Taulava, who swept all the awards in the All-Filipino Cup.

Hatfield was just 32 points behind with a 2,227 total anchored on 1,183 votes from players, 400 from the four-man committee and 331 from media. He was the lone non-Alaska player among the conference's top five.

Arigo wound up third with 1,182, Don Allado a far fourth (705), fifth (617) and Mike Cortez fifth (530).

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved