Bright Akhuetie, Allwell Oraeme in titanic clash as surging Perpetual Help takes on reeling Mapua

Perpetual Help has been living up to the hype as one of the top contenders in the 92nd NCAA seniors basketball tourney, with the Altas emerging as the second hottest team behind host and still undefeated San Beda by winning their last four games in impressive fashion.

Coach Jimwell Gican, however, is not one to be easily pleased, knowing the Altas still have a tough job cut out for them, notably in fine-tuning their offensive patterns.

“Marami pa kaming kailangan i-improve. Kitang kita naman sa stats, especially ang turnovers namin. Minsan nga ayaw ko na tignan ‘yung (post-game) stats (sheet),” he said in jest, referring to Perpetual Help’s 20 errors in the course of its close 71-68 victory over Lyceum last Tuesday.

How quick the Altas have made the adjustments will be known on Thursday when they square off with the dangerous Mapua Cardinals in what promises to an explosive showdown between strong Final Four hopefuls at The Arena in San Juan City.

While momentum is clearly on the side of the Altas, who are currently sharing the second spot with Arellano U, both with identical 6-2 marks, Gican remains wary of their own struggles offensively, with his wards accounting for more than 21 errors per game—the third-worst in the 10-team field.

Add to the fact that the Cardinals, running at fourth with a 5-2 record, have been one of the best in making their rivals pay dearly for costly errors, coming up with 15.0 markers off turnovers per outing, and the Altas are clearly in for a tough grind.

“Kailangan i-work out pa namin ‘yung offense kasi ‘yun ang problema,” Gican pointed out. “Hindi naman pwedeng ganun lagi ang turnovers namin. Final Four ang ini-aim namin at ‘pag ganun ang laro namin, baka hanggang Final Four na lang kami.”

Mapua should come in their 4 p.m. showdown with Perpetual Help motivated—and well-rested too—to bounce back from a 74-85 setback dealt by San Beda last week.

And that’s enough for the Cardinals, powered by reigning league MVP Allwell Oraeme, to become more dangerous.

“They’re a good team,” said Altas prized import Bright Akhuetie, good for 18.0 points, 12.0 rebounds, 2.0 blocks and as many assists per game.

“We don’t have much time to prepare against them. But it’s okay. We have to go back to practice tomorrow (today), watch their tape, make the adjustments and come out with a good gameplan,” added the Nigerian behemoth.

The 6-foot-9 Oraeme, averaging 17.7 markers, 19.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 3.0 blocks, is expected to carry most of the load for the Cardinals, hoping the likes of Andoy Estrella, Exeqiel Biteng, Darell Menina and Joseph Eriobu could come up with solid performances to help overcome the absence of injured skipper CJ Isit.

The Altas should be ready for the Cardinals’ plans. “Sinama na nga rin namin sila sa paghahanda namin against EAC. Ang goal kasi namin, ma-straight ‘yung mga remaining games sa first round para makapondo sa second round,” he concluded. – By Jerome Lagunzad

Follow this writer on Twitter: @JLFoxSports

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