MANILA, January 20, 2005 
(STAR) By Nelson Beltran - Missing an outright entry into the semifinals and enduring the rigors of the playoffs could be a blessing in disguise for San Miguel Beer. The Beermen rode the crest of a four-game romp in the post-classification round play as they whipped the Barangay Ginebra Kings, 96-87, last night at the start of their Gran Matador PBA Philippine Cup best-of-five semifinal showdown at the Araneta Coliseum.

Ranked No. 5 after the qualifiers, San Miguel pulled the stunning win over the top-seeded Kings and moved within two wins of a ninth final appearance in 14 conferences under coach Jong Uichico.

"Baka nga napaganda pa na hindi kami pumasok agad sa semis. It gave us more games to play and the rhythm we’re enjoying in our game now," said Uichico.

The two teams figured in a virtual slugfest through the first three periods of play before the Beermen seized the initiative in the final canto, coming up with a decisive run that carried them to a fifth straight win. The team earlier swept the Sta. Lucia Realtors and the Alaska Aces in the wildcard playoff and the best-of-three quarterfinal series, respectively.

Danny Seigle, who’s starting to show his old deadly form following a long layoff due to several injuries, put in huge numbers with 32 points and 13 rebounds and got the needed support from Danny Ildefonso, Nic Belasco and Olsen Racela.

"We’ve just started to get into the groove because it’s just only now that we’re able to play with a complete lineup. In the elims, I had a hard time getting the boys’ games together because of injuries," said Uichico.

"Ang Ginebra naman normal lang na maging a bit rusty because of the long break. But the second game will surely be a whole lot different. We expect them to make the adjustments for a comeback," Uichico added.

Despite the long respite that started after their Christmas Day duel with the Talk n Text Phone Pals, the Kings actually came out strong, dragging the Beermen into a fierce battle in the first 40 minutes of play, marked by six deadlocks and 11 lead changes.

Neither team led by more than four in the first half.

The Kings had their last taste of the lead at 65-64 before the Beermen worked on a lethal 18-4 attack to open a commanding 82-69 spread halfway through the fourth quarter.

Curiously, second stringers Joey Mente and Anton Villoria provided the spark in that San Miguel run which was sustained by Seigle, Racela and Dondon Hontiveros at the finish.

The Beermen finished the Kings off as Racela fed Hontiveros with a good fastbreak pass, drew an offensive foul from Jayjay Helterbrand then scored on a charity on another foul by Helterbrand, giving San Miguel a 92-85 lead with time down to 40 seconds.

Seigle set the tone for San Miguel’s big night by pumping in 11 points in the first quarter although the Beermen still found themselves trailing the Kings, 20-22, as Caguioa bettered his output by one point.

Although Seigle slowed down a bit in the second with four, he more than made up for this by churning out a 17-point output in the final two quarters, including 10 in the fourth that capped the Beermen’s romp.

Mark Caguioa scored a game-high 35 points while Eric Menk dished out a solid double-double game with 26 points and 15 rebounds.

The others Kings, however, struggled in the contest.

Rodney Santos and Helterband scored only 15 points between themselves, both going scoreless in the first period. Helterbrand, a noted streak-shooter, actually failed to score even in the second quarter, coughed up for only two points in the third before knocking in five in the last period.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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