SMB  TESTS  RED  BULL  IN  SEMIS;  ACES  FACE  GIANTS
 
MANILA, JUNE 18, 2006 (STAR) By Nelson Beltran - That’s the picture as Purefoods, San Miguel Beer, Alaska Milk and Red Bull start their confrontations in the Gran Matador Brandy PBA Philippine Cup Final Four at the Araneta Coliseum today.

Fresh legs eager to return to battle versus well-flexed muscles raring for more action.

With the Barangay Ginebra Kings’ reign as All-Filipino champion over, the Giants, the Beermen, the Aces and the Bulls are the four teams left to succeed the deposed champs.

It’s a great mix with the Bulls, the Fiesta Cup titlists, pursuing an ambitious bid to complete a double-championship in the season and the rest all out to reclaim the coveted crown in the All-Filipino tourney.

The Bulls and the Beermen clash on one side and the Giants and the Aces on the other of the twin best-of-seven semifinals showdowns.

The Giants and the Aces mix it up in the 4:10 p.m. curtain-raiser then the Bulls and the Beermen square off in the 6:35 p.m. mainer to start this Final Four which could turn out to be classic midyear wars.

Purefoods and San Miguel, the classification-round topnotchers, are coming back from almost a month-long rest while Red Bull and Alaska are immediately plunging back into action after surviving Ginebra San Miguel and Coca-Cola, respectively, in the quarterfinals.

Thus, the Giants and the Beermen will start with fresh legs while the Bulls and the Aces may be battle-weary but will enjoy momentum going into the semis.

"The long break definitely worked in our favor because we’re returning with all our injured players now healthy," said Purefoods coach Ryan Gregorio.

"My players excusing themselves as a little rusty is unacceptable to me. There will be some adjustments but we’re more of a defensive team. We just have to exert our best effort defensively and we will compete," Gregorio added.

With Eugene Tejada still in sickbed, Purefoods has signed up free agent Don Camaso.

Having some bad lucks during their break were the Beermen whose main men Danny Ildefonso and Danny Seigle suffered injuries in practice.

Ildefonso sustained a sprained left ankle in their tune-up game with Montana Jewels. After skipping their practices for a week, Ildefonso was to rejoin the Beermen in their workout yesterday to see if he can play today.

Seigle is definitely suiting up today although he‚s still nursing back spasm.

The injury-plagued Beermen will be up against a red-hot Red Bull squad which reached the semis following a stirring romp over Barangay Ginebra.

A relentless pressing defense and a well-balanced attack did it for Red Bull as it completed a comeback from 1-2 down versus Ginebra, thus, staying in the hunt for a breakthrough championship in the All-Filipino Conference.

"We‚re happy to win this game but we only have one day to enjoy it. We have to put things together against San Miguel in one day. They (the Beermen) have proven themselves already in the classifications. I just hope, they‚re not as sharper now coming from a long break," said Red Bull coach Yeng Guiao, wary of San Miguel.

Fiesta Cup titlist Red Bull ended Barangay Ginebra‚s reign as All-Filipino champion last night, raging on for a possible double championship in the season.

The Bulls overwhelmed the Kings for the second straight game, carving out a –– victory to clinch the last slot in the Gran Matador Brandy PBA Philippine Cup Final Four at the Ynares Center in Antipolo.

Picking up from where they left off Wednesday, the Bulls took control from start to finish, frustrating the Kings and their huge crowd in their do-or-die battle for the right to challenge the San Miguel Beermen in a best-of-seven semifinals showdown beginning tomorrow at the Araneta Coliseum.

The other Final Four match-up pits Purefoods and Alaska Milk. They start their own duel in the 4:10 p.m. curtain-raiser tomorrow.

A relentless pressing defense and a well-balanced attack did it for Red Bull as it completed a comeback from 1-2 down versus Ginebra, thus, staying in the hunt for a breakthrough championship in the All-Filipino Conference.

The Bulls, who have already won three import-laced tourneys but still in search of a first All-Filipino title, took the series opener at 93-86 and Game Four at 118-97.

Red Bull coach Yeng Guiao shuffled all his 11 players with cunning, and the team hardly missed the absence of ace guard Celino Cruz in duplicating their emphatic win in Game Four.

"Game Four was the key. Our energy and momentum spilled over to this game," said Red Bull coach Yeng Guiao.

Cyrus Baguio and Leo Najorda came through with career-high outputs with 23 and 21 points, respectively with Lordy Tugade also pouring in 21 and Junthy Valenzuela and Mick Pennisi adding 13 and 12, respectively.

Cruz will be back from a one-game suspension tomorrow as the Bulls and the Beermen clash in a rematch of their 2005 Fiesta Cup semis showdown won by the latter. The Beermen are coming out fresh from a three-week respite after finishing second in the double-round classification phase.

"We‚re happy to win this game but we only have one day to enjoy it. We have to put things together against San Miguel Sunday. They (the Beermen) have proven themselves already in the classifications. I just hope, they‚re not as sharper now coming from a long break," said Red Bull coach Yeng Guiao, wary of San Miguel.

Just like in Game Four, Baguio started at off-guard spot and sparked a Red Bull strong start that gave the Bulls early double-digit spreads before sitting on a 48-37 cushion at the intermission.

Ginebra actually trailed by 15 with time down to 45 seconds in the opening half but drew breaks on Allan Salangsang‚s four-point closing binge, including a buzzer-beating trey from way, way out.

The Bulls opened the game with a 9-0 run with the Kings scoring their first basket already three minutes into the contest on a short stab by Mike Holper.

Topex Robinson knocked in a bank shot then Baguio rifled in a three-pointer and the Bulls rampaged to their first double-digit lead at 14-2 which grew to as big as 48-33 on a 8-0 attack by Paolo Bugia, Lordy Tugade and Junthy Valenzuela towards the end of the first half.


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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