PBA FIESTA CHAMPIONSHIP CUP: TOUGH BULLS, TOUGH CHAMPS
MANILA, February 20, 2006 (STAR) By Nelson Beltran - Red Bull is back in dreamland with its first championship in four years.
A team without a legitimate superstar but teeming with players with a big heart, the Bulls completed a magical ride to win the San Mig Coffee PBA Fiesta Cup championship with an 83-73 victory over the Purefoods Chunkee Giants before a mammoth crowd of over 10,000 at the Araneta Coliseum last night.
Coach Yeng Guiao rotated his entire 12-man roster with cunning, and the Bulls responded in the affirmative, delivering the Sunday punch on the Giants to close out their best-of-seven titular series at 4-2.
"Iím just so happy. We made it through hardship and tough adversity. The best in our opponents brought out the best in us," said Red Bull coach Yeng Guiao amidst the din of the wild celebration of his team and their supporters.
The Red Bull celebration started with still 30 seconds left in the clock after James Yap missed a breakaway lay-up, then the Bulls gained ball possession while protecting a 77-73 lead.
The Giants actually went without a basket in the last 1:33 in a sorry fold-up allowing the Bulls to escape with the win and their third championship since joining the league as an expansion ball club in 2000.
Purefoods coach Ryan Gregorio curiously lived and died with only eight men.
To Red Bull team manager Tony Chua, the Fiesta Cup crown was a product of a rebuilding they had to undertake following the ouster of Davonn Harp last year.
"We committed to rebuild and Iím proud of what we have achieved in a short time," said Chua.
Coach Guiao, meanwhile, gave a major portion of the credit to import James Penny whom they took in to replace Quemont Greer in the playoffs.
"It was a big gamble on our part to replace an explosive scorer in Q (Quemont) and it paid off. We looked at Penny to make the other guys play better. And he did the job," said Guiao of the former Texas Christian State standout.
As in the previous games, the Bulls played a well-balanced game with their bench delivering significant numbers and utterly dominating their Purefoods counterpart.
Cyrus Baguio and Mick Pennisi stood out with the former fuelling their searing comeback from a 15-point deficit in the second quarter and the latter going for the kill at crunchtime.
Lordy Tugade worked silently for 11 points and five rebounds and was named finals MVP. The 6-foot-2 forward out of National University averaged 15.7 points, 2.3 rebounds and 3.3 assists in the series.
Enrico Villanueva, the Best Player of the Conference, settled for runner-up honors in the finals MVP derby but was so joyful with his first championship in the pro league. He said: "No doubt, the PBA is the highest league in the country. Winning a PBA championship feels like youíre on top of the world."
Banking heavily on a 22-0 attack bridging the first two quarters, the Giants enjoyed an early 15-point spread and sat on a 40-36 cushion at halftime.
Marc Pingris scored nine straight points in that run which was also highlighted by clutch plays by Jun Limpot who started for Purefoods for the first time this conference.
The Bulls, however, had their counterattack in the second period largely behind second stringers Baguio, Pennisi and Celino Cruz, trimming the gap to four at the turn.
Baguio highlighted their assault with a booming three-pointer then a follow-up shot against the towering Marquin Chandler following on a missed jumper by Cruz.
Red Bull got back in the thick of things while shooting 45.8 percent in the second quarter as against Purefoodsí 25-percent marksmanship.
Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi
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