Powerhouse CafeFrance realized its immediate goal in the 2016 PBA D-League Aspirants Cup at the expense of struggling Wang’s Basketball on Tuesday afternoon but coach Egay Macaraya refused to look that far ahead.
“The only thing we got is the twice-to-beat advantage (in the quarterfinals). Anything can still happen so there’s no guarantee,” said Macaraya, 54, after the Bakers defeated the Couriers 106-73 behind a ferocious charge in the second half at the FilOil-Flying V Arena in San Juan.
Mar Villahermosa came off the bench and scattered a team-high 15 points, eight of them coming in the final frame, while six other teammates scored at least 10 markers to help CafeFrance, the reigning Foundation Cup titlist, stay unscathed after five matches and keep its stranglehold of the lead in the nine-team field.
Wingman Mark Romero banged in 11 of his game-high 18 markers in the first half where the Couriers seemed a tough nut to crack but they collectively struggled to keep in step when the Bakers shifted into high gear, sending them to their third straight setback and fourth overall in five starts.
Big men Carl Cruz and Congolese Rodrigue Ebondo provided the inside presence with a combined 25-point, 17-rebound output while Joseph Manlangit and John Casino teamed up for 23 of the Bakers’ 57 markers off the bench, underscoring the depth they have.
While they gained a fitting follow-up to their thrilling 90-87 come-from-behind win over formidable Caida last week, Macaraya quickly dismissed the notion that they are the clear title favorites.
“No. Of course, we all know that we still have the quarterfinals. Every game counts and hopefully every game the boys will continue to improve,” he said.
While the post-game stat sheets showed how the Bakers dominated the Couriers, it wasn’t clearly the case in the first half.
Apparently being lulled into some sense of complacency, CafeFrance initially struggled to pull away from Wang’s Basketball before making eight unanswered points late in the second frame to turn a 36-37 deficit into an eight-point buffer at the break.
From there, the Bakers displayed the lethal form that they have been known of, with Cruz taking turns with Villahermosa, Casino and Jayson Opiso in their 26-point explosion in the third, enabling them to build a lead as high of 18 markers before turning the final canto into a virtual scrimmage.
“In our previous practice, I was really concerned about complacency. Against Wang’s, I told them that they (the Couriers) are capable of playing well since they have plenty of veterans. In the first half, they (the Bakers) seemed to be bothered by the cold condition here or maybe they are just playing relaxed,” observed Macaraya.
CafeFrance takes on unpredictable Tanduay on Monday and Macaraya already has an idea on what they are up to. “They (the Rhum Masters) are very strong, unpredictable and has a good lineup. I guess the only key against them is the same thing: Team defense,” he concluded. – Jerome Lagunzad (follow this writer on Twitter: @BossBhudz)
CAFEFRANCE 106 – Villahermosa 15, Cruz 13, Ebondo 12, Manlangit 12, Abundo 11, Casino 11, De Leon 10, Opiso 9, Arim 6, Jeruta 4, Zamar 3, Anunciacion 0, Celso 0.
WANGS BASKETBALL 73 – Romero 18, Acosta 13, Mangahas 11, Publico 8, Bautista 6, Tumalip 6, Ilad 3, Munsayac 3, Cabahug 2, Cueto 2, Banal 1, Je. Montemayor 0, Jo. Montemayor 0.
Quarterscores: 22-12, 44-37, 70-54, 106-73.