(STAR) Sta. Lucia Realty recovered from a listless start and anchored a stirring finish behind a solid defense for a 109-97 win over Purefoods in Game One of their Smart PBA Philippine Cup title confrontation last night at the Araneta Coliseum.

“We’re tight in the first half and we thought we didn’t make the finals just to play catch-up basketball. We seized control in the third quarter and held on to the finish playing good defense,” said Sta. Lucia coach Boyet Fernandez.

Sta. Lucia had its first taste of the lead, 71-70, toward the end of the third. But there was no stopping the Realtors when they finally got into the groove and played like seasoned champs in their very first All-Filipino final.

“We prepared our mind for a Sta. Lucia onslaught but it turned out we’re not ready physically. Our legs were heavy, we didn’t have our usual spring and we didn’t have the will to win,” said Purefoods coach Ryan Gregorio.

“The good news is that this is just Game One. No worries. A series isn’t won in Game One,” Gregorio added.

Fernandez unleashed Kelly Williams, Dennis Espino, Nelbert Omolon, Marlou Aquino, Joseph Yeo, Ryan Reyes and Dennis Miranda, giving them long minutes and they responded to the challenge.

Sta. Lucia also enjoyed quality minutes from Norman Gonzales and Christian Coronel.

Williams saved his best for last, exploding for 14 points in the final quarter and finishing with another double-double with 24 points and 12 rebounds.

Espino, Omolon, Aquino, Yeo and Miranda each added at least 11 points.

“There’s no way we can win if we allow our opponents to score over 100 points. We did a good job in the first half limiting them to five turnover points but we became careless in the second half. They went on to finish with 25 turnover points,” said Gregorio.

Williams led all scorers and delivered crucial points in the fourth quarter helping Sta. Lucia establish control at 99-87 with time down to 3:56.

Purefoods started the game with a 12-2 run and held on to close the half at 55-46 capped by a buzzer-beating coast-to-coast three-pointer by Roger Yap.

The Giants dominated the opening half largely behind the efforts of their starting unit, combining for all but 10 of the team’s output in the first 24 minutes of play.

In the first game, Red Bull routed Alaska, 125-104, to take third place honors.

Only Manny can beat Manny By Joaquin Henson Saturday, February 16, 2008

The only way Manny Pacquiao will lose to Juan Manuel Marquez in their scheduled 12-round WBC superfeatherweight title fight in Las Vegas on March 15 is if he beats himself.

That’s the assessment of two close associates in Team Pacquiao, dismissing the possibility of the Mexican scoring an upset on his merits.

“Distraction is the only thing that will beat Manny and that’s not going to happen,” said one of the associates in Los Angeles. “In my four years of staying close to Manny, I haven’t seen him as focused in training and as determined to win.”

The same source confirmed that Pacquiao is “a changed man” and “rejuvenated.”

“His training is proceeding according to plan and Freddie (Roach) has even had to hold him back because Manny wants to do more than he’s programmed to do in a day in the gym,” said the source.

“He’s in a great mood. He jokes around the guys. You don’t see him down. He wakes up early and sleeps early. He eats right and burns what he eats so weight isn’t a problem. He’s now about 136 pounds. When he leaves for Las Vegas a week before the fight, he’ll be around 133. He’ll show up for the weigh-in less than 130. Unlike in the (Marco Antonio) Barrera fight where he had difficulty making the weight, this time, he’s on target. At the moment, he’s close to 80 percent from peak condition. He’ll be at his peak when he fights Marquez.”

Pacquiao logs anywhere between 29 to 32 rounds of combined sparring, bagging, punching mitts, shadow-boxing and keeping rhythm with a speedball every day at the Wild Card Gym. He also does roadwork in the morning.

At night, Pacquiao just relaxes in his apartment at the Palazzo and watches DVDs. The movies he’s seen lately were “Catch Me If You Can” “The Fantastic Four” and “The Bourne Ultimatum.” It’s lights out by 10 p.m. for Pacquiao each night.

“Freddie can’t keep up with Manny,” said the other associate who monitors Pacquiao’s training progress. “Freddie used a brand-new set of mitts when Manny started training. Now, the mitts are so banged up that Freddie has to buy a new pair. Manny always wants to do extra rounds. We heard Marquez is running 10 miles a day and started training a month ahead but no one can match Manny’s intensity in the gym.”

The source said what piqued Pacquiao was Marquez’ boast during their press conference last month. Marquez said he’ll prove Pacquiao is no Mexican assassin by knocking him out.

“Manny just smiled when he heard Marquez brag,” said the source. “But he later told me he didn’t like what Marquez said. If Marquez got up from three knockdowns in their first fight, Manny promised he won’t get up this time.”

The source said Pacquiao knows what’s at stake in the fight and that’s why he’s so focused.

“Manny can’t afford to lose because he knows what (Bob) Arum has lined up for him,” said the source. “After beating Marquez, he’ll go for the WBC lightweight title against (David) Diaz then before the year ends, he’ll stand to earn about $30 million for fighting Ricky Hatton. Marquez is a stepping stone for bigger things. Manny knows he’ll have to get past Marquez before fighting Diaz and Hatton.”

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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