MANILA, June 14, 2004
Not even a sour touch from the stripes could keep Red Bull Barako from its cherished goal.

Bucking a conference-high 25 missed free throws the Barakos scored a 101-91 win last night over the debuting US Pro-Am selection to move closer to a semifinal berth in the Gran Matador PBA Fiesta Conference at the Araneta Coliseum. Big man Homer Se came through for the Barakos with a conference-high 20 points, mostly on inside forays, behind a near-perfect 10-of-11 shooting from the floor in tandem with Victor Thomas, whose team-high 27 points was capped by a 9-of-11 field performance. Those high numbers, plus Red Bull's 59.7 percent shooting from the field, were more than enough to atone for the team's dismal 21-of-46 (45 percent) showing from the free throw area.

"At least naaamoy na namin ang semifinals," said Barako coach Yeng Guiao, himself the recipient just a day ago of the highest fine meted by the league this conference.

Seeded fifth at the end of the eliminations, the Barakos won their third straight after convincing victories over Shell and San Miguel and now only need to beat Talk N Text on Saturday to complete a three-game sweep of their quarterfinal assignments in Group A and book a slot in the semifinals. The Barakos took control of their game against the Americans only in the final quarter when Se, Thomas and Torion scored most of their points. Se and Torion in particular, were the ones responsible for putting the game away as they sparked a closing 9-2 run to stretch a close two-point ballgame to 97-88 in the final 54 seconds.

"We're a bit rusty and we kind of struggled (against Red Bull's physical plays)," admitted American coach Malcolm Smith.

The first half was a closely fought one as the two teams came through with their own separate spurts. A three-pointer by former Metropolitan Basketball Association (MBA) stalwart Philip Newton gave the Mail and More-backed Americans their first sizeable lead at 29-20. The Americans were still up by seven midway in the second period when Red Bull scored eight straight points, capped by a Torion fadeaway jumper, to take the upperhand for the first time at 38-37. But the Americans answered back with their own 8-0 run before Junthy Valenzuela came through with six consecutive points to make it a one-point game 44-45, a lead the US selection would take with it at the half.

The scores


Red Bull 101 - Thomas 27, Se 20, Villanueva 11, Torion 10, Harp 10, Valenzuela 8, Tugade 6, Pennisi 6, Baguio 3, Robinson 0, Ordonio 0.

US Pro-Am 91 - Friel 19, Eldridge 16, Turner 11, Sojourner 10, Heron 9, Scott 7, Coffin 6, Crotty 6, Robinson 4, Newton 3.

Quarterscores: 20-26; 46-47; 69-71; 101-91

PBL:  Signs favor Santos copping MVP honors (MALAYA) June 14, 2004

Viva Mineral Water-FEU's Arwind Santos and Welcoat's Jojo Tangkay are two fine and exciting players with a distinct flair to hit one big basket after another. Both players are valuable to their respective teams but only one is sure to win the coveted Most Valuable Player (MVP) award when the PBL honors its top performers in tomorrow's Achievement Awards at the Pasig Sports Center.

Although Santos has made it clear before the start of the tournament that helping his team win the championship is more important than getting the highest individual award, the 6-foot-4 forward is nevertheless the odds-on favorite to romp away with the MVP plum.

All the signs are there for everyone to see.

After the semis, Santos remains firmly ahead of Tangkay in the statistical points due to his solid all-around performance and consistency. With his wondrous leaping ability that belies his lean frame and his timing, Santos topped the rebounding (10 caroms a game) and shot block (2.06 a game) departments and ranked No. 2 in scoring, averaging 14.62. For that astounding effort, the amiable 22-year-old Santos has accumulated 637 points for a clear 105-point advantage over the flamboyant Welcoat guard who emerged as the scoring champion for the second straight conference by averaging a high 17.3 points a game.

Other stars in the MVP race are Tangkay's partner Chester Tolomia with 517 points followed by three Viva-FEU players: Dennis Miranda (478), Warren Yba˝ez (434) and Mark Isip (442). The league will also cite some of the players who doggedly found a way to shine in the season-opening tournament. Aside from the Mythical Five Selection, Sudden Impact and Sportsmanship awards, the league will also honor the most improved player and top newcomer.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved