[PHOTO AT LEFT - Sol Mercado of Rain or Shine drives against Alaska’s Willy Miller whose late game heroics propel the Aces to a thrilling 95-94 win. JUN MENDOZA]

MANILA, JANUARY 23, 2010 (STAR) By Nelson Beltran - Willie Miller came off the bench to fire Alaska’s last nine points, including the marginal basket, as the Aces snatched a thrilling 95-84 victory over Rain or Shine to finally clinch an outright semifinal berth in the KFC PBA Philippine Cup at the Ynares Sports Center in Antipolo last night.

Sol Mercado erupted for a career-high 35 points for the Elasto Painters but Miller had the last laugh in their explosive confrontation as the two-time MVP winner carried the Aces through with his endgame brilliance.

Miller finished with 23 points and 12 rebounds and knocked in the game-winning basket on an eight-foot bank shot with time down to 12 seconds.

The Elasto Painters went to Mercado in their last possession but the 5-foot-11 guard failed to deliver, fumbling the ball in the face of the Aces’ tenacious defense.

The Aces thus checked a two-game losing skein and closed out their elims campaign with a 13-5 win-loss card to join the San Miguel Beermen in the semis round.

The Elasto Painters lost their last four games and wound up ninth place with a poor 4-14 record in the elimination round.

Rain or Shine plays either Purefoods, Talk n Text or Sta. Lucia Realty in the first phase of the wild card plays tomorrow at the same venue.

“We put behind us the outcome of our last two games. We told ourselves that all we need is to win this game and we gain the same result of outright semis passage,” said Miller.

“Willie really stepped up down the stretch. I saw we couldn’t get through sudden pressure. We came out tentative and soft. I softened up on the boys a little bit and partly that was my fault,” said Alaska coach Tim Cone.

“But the monkey’s off our back now. We can learn from that lesson. We’ll practice hard, step up a lot more and go back at being the real Alaska team. The battle cry (in the semis) is to get better,” Cone added.

With hardly a pressure playing a non-bearing game, the Elasto Painters played loose and pushed the Aces to the limit.

Mercado scored in bunches to improve his previous career-best of 29 only to lost steam when it mattered most.

Miller, on the other hand, came through with the game on the line.

The beefy Alaska guard scored back-to-back baskets on penetrations as the Aces took a 93-89 lead entering the final minute.

But Rain or Shine fought back and seized the lead for the last time at 94-93 on a three-pointer by Mercado and a short jumper by JayR Reyes.

'Hawaiian Punch' inspired by Manny By Joaquin Henson (The Philippine Star) Updated January 23, 2010 12:00 AM

MANILA, Philippines - IBF lightflyweight champion Brian Viloria said he is inspired by Manny Pacquiao’s work ethic and it will propel him to overachieve in his second title defense against Colombian challenger Carlos Tamara at the Cuneta Astrodome today.

“It’s amazing how Manny drives himself to work so hard in the gym, the way he prepares for a fight,” said Viloria. “When you think he’s achieved the pinnacle, Manny surprises you by doing even more. It’s unfair when someone calls a prospect the next Manny Pacquiao because there’ll never be another Manny Pacquiao. What he has done is unheard of, winning seven world titles in seven divisions.”

Viloria was at ringside broadcasting for Solar TV when Pacquiao halted Miguel Cotto to win the WBO welterweight crown - his seventh world title - in Las Vegas last November.

“The fight against Cotto proved how far Manny has progressed,” continued Viloria. “In every fight, he just gets better, showing more intelligence, more skills. He’s come full circle. He hits just as hard with the left hook as the right straight. Right now, Pacquiao’s the guy. He’s earned his stripes.”

Asked to drop hints on his fightplan for Tamara, Viloria said he’ll apply a lot of pressure, work the body, slow him down and move inside.

“I think my biggest strengths are resiliency and the ability to pressure my opponents,” he said. “I don’t really think too much of what I’ll do inside the ring. If you think too much, you lose that split-second edge. I just go with my instincts. I’ll come in with a fightplan, which I’ll stick with until there’s a need to adjust, depending on what Tamara brings to the table. I’m not going in looking for a knockout. I’ll be ready to go 12 rounds if necessary but if there’s an opening to go for the kill, I’ll definitely go for it.”

Viloria said his trainer Robert Garcia, a former IBF superfeatherweight champion, has injected new life in his career.

“Robert brought me back to the basics and worked on my fundamentals,” he said. “He and his father Eduardo are a big influence along with my manager Gary Gittelsohn. He got me excited to work in the gym again. He made me aware of the value of being in condition. Robert really knows his stuff. He’s now working with Nonito Donaire as a strategist. He also works with Steven Luevano. I don’t think Robert is spreading himself too thinly working with so many world champions. He’s there when you need him.”

Viloria admitted his career has been topsy-turvy.

“I know what it’s like to go down and I don’t like it,” said Viloria. “Now that I’m back as world champion, I intend to stay a world champion. If I were to pattern my career after somebody else’s, it would be the Cinderella Man’s. Jim Braddock was down when he picked himself up and beat Max Baer for the world heavyweight title as a 10-to-1 underdog in 1935.”

Viloria was hailed as a star on the rise when he knocked out Mexico’s Eric Ortiz in one round to capture the WBC lightflyweight title in 2005. Then, he lost the title in his second defense and failed to regain it in two attempts.Critics pounced on Viloria for losing the fire in his belly and the Hawaiian Punch from Narvacan, Ilocos Sur, had to rebuild his reputation all over again, fighting in small cards in small venues, until he halted Ulises Solis in a dramatic 11th round knockout to wrest the IBF 108-pound crown at the Araneta Coliseum last April.

Regarding the aborted fight between Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather, Viloria said there’s no doubt in his mind that “Pretty Boy” brought up impossible conditions to wiggle out of a duel with the Filipino icon.

“Mayweather just doesn’t want to fight Manny,” he said. “Why should Manny accept his conditions? Manny stuck to his principles. Mayweather has no right to demand drug-testing procedures because that’s none of his business. It’s the regulating authorities who make the call on drug-testing. They set the guidelines and fighters follow.”

Viloria said he’s not worried that Pacquiao will lose focus as a fighter with his commercial and business commitments.

“Manny thrives in what some people think is a chaotic situation,” continued Viloria. “Some fighters won’t like it when they move around with an entourage of 40 people. But Manny’s different. He loves it. It’s been that way since he became a multiple champion. That’s what Manny’s about. God put him in this planet for a reason. Manny brings pride and honor to the Philippines and the Filipino people. That’s his purpose and nobody can take that away from him.”

Viloria said Pacquiao genuinely enjoys what he’s doing and it shows in the way he drives himself in and out of the ring.

“Like Manny, I don’t consider boxing a job,” said Viloria. “I love the sport. I embrace doing what I have to do to be the best I can be in the ring.”

Viloria easily makes weight; foe struggles By Abac Cordero (The Philippine Star) Updated January 23, 2010 12:00 AM

[PHOTO AT LEFT - Brian Viloria (right), showing his form in yesterday’s weigh-in, defends his IBF lightflyweight crown today against challenger Carlos Tamara of Colombia. JUN MENDOZA]

MANILA, Philippines - Brian Viloria jumped on the scales and made 108 lb flat. His opponent, Carlos Tamara, tried twice, naked the second time, but was half a pound over the limit.

During the official weigh-in for Viloria’s defense of his IBF light-flyweight crown, scheduled at noon today at the Cuneta Astrodome, it was quite evident which fighter is in better shape for the awaited 12-round battle.

Viloria pumped his fist and smiled at photographers after making the weight while Camara, who hails from Colombia, needed an extra hour to burn the excess. After his third trip to the scales, he was finally cleared to fight.

“I’m ready. I’ve been ready,” said Viloria, making his way out of the Manila Hotel’s Centennial Hall yesterday morning, holding on to a big plastic bottle of rehydration fluid which fighters normally drink right after the weigh-in.

Viloria stood beside Tamara, face-to-face, for the photo-op after the initial weigh in, and left right after. By the time Tamara made the weight, the Fil-American champion must have finished eating, relaxing up in his room.

Tamara’s trainer, Butch Sanchez, couldn’t figure out why the veteran of the 2004 Olympics went over the limit when just a few hours earlier he was well inside the limit, at 106 lb, using a digital scale at the hotel’s fitness center.

“But it’s okay. Carlos made the weight and tomorrow he’ll be the new champion, the IBF champion,” said Sanchez of the 26-year-old challenger, three years younger than Viloria and at 5’5 an inch taller. He also has a longer reach, 66” to Viloria’s 65.”

When he finally made the weight, Tamara was seen giving the thumbs-up sign to his handlers.

“This is a chance of a lifetime so you have to make the most out of it. Carlos is the underdog but he loves being the underdog. And he likes to fight away from home. So, the pressure is on Brian, not on him,” he said.

Sanchez was asked if he sees the fight going the distance, and he said, “If one gets careless then he ends up in his bed.”

Viloria, making the second defense he won via a sensational knockout of Ulises Solis last year, said he trained three-and-a-half months for this fight, but brushed off any possibility of a burnout.

“It those three months we made it fun, laughing and cracking jokes. The first month it was about waking up in the morning, running and having fun,” said Viloria, adding that he plans to climb the ring at around 114 lb.

“I plan to gain just six pounds and that’s all,” he said.

Tamara, according to Sanchez, will come in a little heavier than that, at around “115, 116 or 117.”

Notes: Solar Sports has put up a great card for this “Collision Course” that the country’s No. 1 sports channel has brought in a couple of Spanish-speaking commentators to work the fights. The card, which will feature 10 bouts, will begin at 9 a.m. and will be aired the rest of Asia, Middle East, United States and Mexico through different cable providers. Donnie Nietes, the reigning WBO minimumweight champion from Bacolod, will take on Mexico’s Jesus Silvestre, a last-minute replacement. The fight, however, has been declared a non-title bout because Silvestre is not ranked by the WBO. Some of the finest Pinoy boxers will be part of the show, including Dennis Laurente, Jimrex Jaca and Jason Pagara, who will be up against foreign foes. Dodie Boy Penalosa, son and namesake of the former world champion, will make his pro debut against Anthony Balubar of Vigan City (2-2-1) and will be out to make an impression, the way his father did in the world stage a few decades ago. The 19-year-old Penalosa used to be part of the Philippine amateur boxing team but decided to turn pro because he felt he wasn’t being given the chance and the proper break with the national team. Now he’s out to prove some people wrong.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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