MANILA, June 17, 2004
By Nelson Beltran  -  Old rivals Talk n Text and Red Bull Barako, and sister teams Coca-Cola and Barangay Ginebra make up the curious Final Four mix in the Gran Matador PBA Fiesta Conference.

Halfway through the brief quarterfinals, the semis cast has been completed with Coca-Cola and Talk n Text fashioning out decisive wins over University of British Columbia and the Mail & More-backed US Pro-Am Selection, respectively, at the Araneta Coliseum last night.

The Tigers outsmarted and outplayed the UBC Thunderbirds for a 110-95 rout while the Phone Pals leaned on a strong finish to repulse the US Pro-Ams, 127-115, in a fight-marred game.

The game was down to the last 5.9 seconds with the win in the bag for Talk n Text when a bench-clearing incident erupted after Jerald Honeycutt, on an inbound play, hit defender Michael Crotty with the ball on the head then wrestled and tossed him to the floor. Honeycutt and Asi Taulava, who charged into the court and shoved another American down, were ejected while US Pro-Am coach Malcolm Smith was called a technical foul.

"It’s very, very sad and unfortunate it came down to that," said Smith of the incident.

With their victories, the Tigers and the Phone Pals towed the Kings and the Thunder to an outright passage into the crossover best-of-three semifinals.

Only the seedings in the two groups will be settled as Red Bull clashes with Talk n Text and Coca-Cola fights Ginebra Saturday.

San Miguel Beer, Alaska Milk and the two guest teams, who have bowed out of the fight for the semis, figure in a pair of non-bearing matches Sunday.

Coca-Cola drew inspiration from the amazing feat of the Detroit Pistons in the NBA Finals as it dealt the Canadians their second straight defeat.

Mark Sanford, Jeffrey Cariaso, Johnny Abarrientos and Poch Juinio all scored in double figures while Rudy Hatfield missed by a point what could have been a triple-double game.

"We’re happy we’ve made it to the Final Four but whoever we play would surely give us a hell of a fight," said Coca-Cola coach Chot Reyes.

"We have to find a way to, you know, ‘out-effort’ whoever we play in the semis. Kahit sino kasi sa kanila is taller and has deeper bench than us. We have to ‘Pistonize’ them," added Reyes, referring to the gutsy stand put up by the Pistons against the Los Angeles Lakers in just-concluded finals.

"Before the game we talked about the Lakers-Pistons series. We thought it was decided by a big disparity in efforts. That’s what we wanted to feel in this game. I wanted us to ‘out-effort’ a college team," Reyes said.

The Tigers did exert the kind of effort needed for the relatively easy victory that quashed the Thunderbirds’ and the Aces’ hopes to barge into the next round via the backdoor.

With the Aces and Galen Young out, Sanford found himself the last man standing among imports in the starting roster in the tourney last February. "It says a lot about this team and about Sanford. We stuck it out through thick and thin," said Reyes.

Sanford had another solid all-round game with 23 points, seven rebounds, five blocks, two assists and one steal in 36 minutes of action.

Cariaso and Abarrientos combined for 39 points and 10 assists as they outplayed the UBC backcourt although Filipino pointguard Karlo Villanueva showed marked improvement from his game versus Ginebra Sunday, piling up six assists, five points and the same number of rebounds.

The Thunderbirds play against the Aces Sunday minus coach Kevin Hanson who is scheduled to leave for home ahead of the team today to attend to his other chores as coach of the Canadian under-22 men’s team.

With its early ouster, the UBC squad was to fly out Monday but its departure has been moved to a latter date as it has been invited to play the Ateneo Blue Eagles in a series of tuneup matches.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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