MANILA, January 27, 2006
(MALAYA) BY NOLI CORTEZ - Games Today (Ynares Center, Antipolo) 4:40 p.m. – Air21 vs. Purefoods 7:35 p.m. – Red Bull vs. Ginebra.

AFTER Purefoods escaped with a hard-earned 88-87 victory last Wednesday that gave the Giants an imposing 2-0 lead over Air21 in their best-of-seven San Mig Coffee-PBA Fiesta Conference semifinals showdown, one would think coach Ryan Gregorio would at least heave a sigh of relief.


"At this point, I’m still thinking the series is 0-0. We need to win four games to get into the next level. As long as we don’t have that, there’s no reason to celebrate," Gregorio, still grim-faced, said after the Giants turned back the Express for the second straight time in their series.

"They (Express) will not just roll over and die. They have a lot of pride in their system and they’re going to keep on fighting," the youthful Purefoods mentor added.

That explains why Gregorio and his charges are bracing for another thriller today when they face the Express anew in Game 3 at the Ynares Center in Antipolo City.

Ginebra and Red Bull slug it out in the nightcap, with the winner taking a 2-1 lead in their own best-of-seven semis showdown. The Bulls evened the series at 1-1 with an 86-83 win last Wednesday.

Like the first two games, the Purefoods-Air21 curtain-raiser should be as gripping.

The Giants have every reason to hope for the best and expect the worst. This is the mindset they must arm themselves with, according to Gregorio.

"We can’t afford to challenge them in a run-and-gun game. That’s their game. We have to make good use of our fouls and not let them get into their rhythm. They’re hard to stop once they get their rhythm," Gregorio said.

"We need to play smart from start to finish," he added.

Air21 has proven it can hold its own against Purefoods, notwithstanding the loss that came on the heels of an 89-94 defeat in the series opener last Sunday.

The Express actually played well most of the way in Game Two, but ran out of steam after erecting as much as a 10-point lead and heading into the fourth period with a 74-65 deficit.

Purefoods’s locals stepped up in the payoff quarter, with Kerby Raymundo, James Yap and Mark Pingris coming through with clutch baskets.

Import Marquin Chandler rewarded their efforts with a twisting shot from the baseline that shoved the Giants ahead to stay 88-87.

In the ensuing play, Ranidel de Ocampo missed two contested attempts and the Express eventually kissed their bid goodbye.

"The locals heeded the challenge. Come crunch time they were there, ready to make the defensive stops," said Gregorio.

Still, it is undeniable Chandler is the main offensive thorn on the Express’ side.

After 46 points and 16 rebounds in Game One, Chandler churned out huge numbers anew with 29 points, 19 rebounds, three assists and the same number of blocks in 45 minutes of action.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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