MANILA, May 12, 2004
By Nelson Beltran  -  With the national elections all over but the counting, the Gran Matador PBA Fiesta Conference is expected to hit fever pitch once again specially with practically all the teams in full steam entering the homestretch of the preliminary round.

Its first attempt for an outright entry into the quarterfinal round foiled by Talk n Text Thursday, San Miguel Beer takes a second crack at it tonight versus Alaska Milk.

Sta. Lucia Realty and Barangay Ginebra collide in the day’s other game at the Araneta Coliseum with both pursuing their bids for a twice-to-beat advantage in the wildcard plays of the PBA transition tourney.

The Beermen and the Aces clash at 4:45 p.m. then the Realtors and the Kings battle at 7:10 p.m.

San Miguel was a few ticks away from an outright entry into the quarters Thursday when Jerald Honeycutt came into the picture, stalling the Beermen’s bid with a booming three-pointer in their out-of-town game in Lucena.

But with a five-day rest, the Beermen hope to return to the playing court with renewed vigor to finally clinch a slot in the quarterfinals without going through the wildcard plays.

The Beermen, however, anticipate a tough fight versus the Aces, who are also in the hunt for an outright quarters entry.

Like the Beermen, the Aces come off a sorry loss versus the Sta. Lucia Realtors Wednesday. The Aces dominated the Realtors most of the way only to yield in the end.

Pumped up by that victory, Sta. Lucia scored another morale-boosting win over Talk n Text Sunday, keeping the team in the race for the Top Four.

Third and fourth placers after the preliminary round will enjoy a twice-to-beat advantage versus the No. 10 and No. 9 teams in the wildcard plays.

"Our target before was just to avoid finishing No. 9 and No. 10. But since we have gained ground on the leaders and we’re now in the middle, we’re now crossing our fingers we can make the Top Four," said Sta. Lucia coach Alfrancis Chua.

"To make it happen, we have to work hard and also pray that the other teams falter in the homestretch," added Chua, whose team is on a roll, winning six of its last seven games.

Curiously, the Realtors are again up against the very team which they beat for their very first win after a forgettable start.

In the sidelines, Chua will have a rematch with his former player at UST intrams Siot Tanquingcen.

Tanquingcen and his Kings are coming off a big blowout of the Purefoods Hotdogs. The win also kept the team in contention for a Top Four finish.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved