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Hat-trick for Baguion?

Winning the AirAsia Asean Basketball League (ABL) title is a habit that’s hard to break for San Miguel Beer’s 5-11 point guard Froilan Baguion and he’s hoping the streak extends to a third straight championship when the season comes to a climax in the deciding Game 3 of the Finals at the Ynares Sports Arena in Pasig this Saturday.

San Miguel takes on the gritty Indonesia Warriors to decide the league’s third champion after the Philippine Patriots in 2010 and the Thailand Slammers last year. Baguion, 32, played for the Patriots and the Slammers when they won their ABL crowns. Now that he’s in the San Miguel lineup, coach Bobby Parks couldn’t be happier with his lucky charm.

It was Baguion who brought life back to San Miguel in Game 1 as he buried a triple – his only basket – with 2:55 left in the fourth period to tie the count, 77-all, at Ynares last June 16. The Beermen recovered from 14 points down to draw first blood, 86-83, in the best-of-three series. Baguion, who was snubbed in the 2005 PBA draft but managed to play in the league as a free agent for three seasons, compiled three points, one rebound and nine assists in 16:08 minutes.

Indonesia had more rebounds, 39-37, but San Miguel chalked up more assists, 26-18, with two less turnovers. In the end, the Beermen’s efficient execution made the difference. The opposing imports cancelled each other out as San Miguel’s Nick Fazekas and Duke Crews combined for 40 points and 21 rebounds compared to 40 points and 24 boards by Indonesia’s Steve Thomas and Evan Brock. San Miguel’s Leo Avenido contributed 21 points and Fil-Am Chris Banchero, 11 points with seven assists. Filipino import Allan Salangsang was the only other Warrior – aside from Thomas and Brock – to score in twin digits.

In Game 2 at the Mahaka Square in Jakarta last Saturday, the Warriors got back at San Miguel, 81-61, as Indonesia dominated the boards, 37-21, hit .477 from the floor to the Beermen’s .393, collected more assists, 14-10 and knocked down more triples, 6-2. Crews and Fazekas were limited to 26 points and nine rebounds while Thomas and Brock collaborated for 38 points and 26 boards. Baguion went scoreless in 10:32.

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The rivalry between San Miguel and Indonesia has been fierce dating back to the regular season. They faced off thrice before the playoffs with the Beermen sweeping the contests. First was a 77-61 demolition in Jakarta last Feb. 18. San Miguel’s imports were then Dalron Johnson and Doug Thomas. The Beermen leaned on a huge edge in assists, 19-9, to win despite the Warriors grabbing more rebounds, 42-37. Then, San Miguel repeated, 81-77, at Ynares last Feb. 29. Johnson was still around for the Beermen but Jarrid Famous had replaced Thomas. In the third encounter last March 31, San Miguel made it three in a row, 71-69, as Famous teamed with Crews to lift the Beermen to the hairline victory even as the Warriors had more rebounds, 50-37. What crushed Indonesia was San Miguel’s defense which produced 17 turnovers.

The Warriors, however, are a different team in the Finals. Since Indonesia brought in Brock and Fil-Am Stanley Pringle together, the Warriors have won eight of nine, the only loss a three-pointer to San Miguel. They’ve also lined up 6-2 US-born Arki Wisnu of Baruch College-the City University of New York and 6-7 Christian Sitepu, both fresh from playing in the Indonesian pro league.

Wisnu, 24, averaged 14.1 points in 41 games with Indonesian league champion Satria Muda this past season. Wishu has played in only the Warriors’ last three games and Sitepu the last four. Pringle, a Penn State mainstay, is averaging 17.6 points for the Warriors and has been a key to Indonesia’s surge, taking over the third Asean import slot from Mark Magsumbol to join Jerick Canada and Allan Salangsang. Under ABL rules, each team is allowed to sign up three Asean imports. Coach Todd Purves’ other reliables are 5-9 sharpshooter Mario Wuysang, 6-5 Rony Gunawan and 6-2 Amin Prihantono.

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If the imports balance each other out, the challenge is for the supporting cast to step up. For San Miguel, Avenido must be in tip-top shape. He returned to practice yesterday after resting a second degree ankle sprain and will be ready to go on Saturday. PBA veteran Roger Yap, a hard-nosed defender, is also expected to play a major role.

Banchero, a Seattle Pacific star, joined San Miguel late in the season, making his ABL debut last April 14. Since his arrival, the team has won eight of 10. He’s averaging 12.4 points, 6.5 assists and 27.1 minutes. Parks will also count on 6-9 June Mar Fajardo and PBA recruits Norman Gonzales, John Ferriols, Aries Dimaunahan, Benedict Fernandez and Christian Luanzon to share the load.

“We’re banking on Nick,” said San Miguel sports director Noli Eala. “He’s got to play big for us. If he plays to his potential, nobody can stop him. In Game 2, Nick and Duke were totally outplayed by Thomas and Brock. They wanted it more than us and it seemed like we didn’t play with a sense of urgency. Brock’s perimeter shooting opened up things for them. We’re up against a tough team that’s nine to 10 men deep. They’re no pushovers. But we’re confident of defending our homecourt on Saturday. We hope a lot of fans come out to cheer for the home team – this is for the country.”

Baguion might just be the man of the moment for San Miguel as he tries to make ABL history by playing on a third straight championship team.

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