MANILA, JULY 21, 2008
(MALAYA) BY NOLI CORTEZ - AFTER finding its biggest enemy lies from within against an import-less Air21, Magnolia got its act together in time to score a 113-87 last night win at the start of the Smart PBA Fiesta Conference semifinals before a big crowd at the Astrodome.

The crowd kept coming after the game for the Ginebra-Red Bull series later in the night. The estimated 11,000 fans ensured the first sell-out in the Pasay venue for the first time this conference.

Amal McCaskill and a slew of tested locals provided the Beverage Masters with the right attitude and poise, enabling them to win over the Express for the first time this season and gain the head start in the best-of-seven series.

The lopsided finish didn't seem headed that way for the first 24 minutes of the game, as the two teams battled through 10 lead changes and seven deadlocks, leaving Magnolia coach Siot Tanquingcen more dissatisfied rather than totally pleased.

"The first half was played poorly," he said, referring to the fact his team even trailed by 39-44.

"Magaling talaga ang Air21, pero parang masyadong naging complacent ang mga players ko. It seems we forgot what got us here, which is defense, so it was really a bad start from that aspect."

Air21 played minus Steven Thomas, who first attended tryouts for the Korean league and then attended the Cleveland Cavaliers training camp. The American, who averaged 23.4 points, 16.6 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game, is set to arrive today and will play in Game 2 on Wednesday.

Tanquingcen knows exactly what Thomas' arrival can do to Air21.

"They're gonna get a confidence boost. Iba talaga pag me import ka," he said.

"We've got to make sure coming in that we do things right. We can't win if we conduct ourselves the way we did in this game."

Expectedly, Express coach Bo Perasol was more satisfied with his boys' showing.

"We're not going to be hard on ourselves," he said, already looking forward to Wednesday. "They will have to contend with us with a complete unit next time at ibang usapan na iyon."

McCaskill wound up with a career-high 34 points that went with 12 rebounds while Lordy Tugade's 22 points led four Magnolia locals who had at least 10 points each.

McCaskill also seemingly drew the best from Homer Se, who surprisingly paced Air21 with a career-high 31 points to go with seven rebounds. Egay Billones' 13 points and Arwind Santos' 12 were the only other double figures for Air21.

Once the Beverage Masters got their act together, it was simply a matter of time before the game's true colors came out and it did mostly in the fourth period.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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