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NCAA reunion in PBA

Unbeaten San Miguel Beer faces dangerous Rain Or Shine in a PBA Commissioner’s Cup game that will renew a US NCAA Division I rivalry between opposing imports Charles Rhodes and Shawn Taggart as an exciting sidelight at the Mall of Asia Arena tomorrow night.

Rhodes and Taggart played on different teams in the second round of the NCAA Tournament in Little Rock, Arkansas, in the 2007-08 season. Rhodes was the starting center with No. 8 seed Mississippi State under coach Rick Stansbury while Taggart came off the bench for No. 1 seed University of Memphis under coach John Calipari. Taggart’s teammates included former Alaska import Rob Dozier and now NBA star Derrick Rose.

Before the match-up, Rhodes called out Memphis center Joey Dorsey. “I hope Dorsey got better overnight,” said Rhodes. Dorsey, who later played for three teams in four NBA seasons, was determined to make Rhodes pay for his sarcasm. “Rhodes is a great player but he just had me amped up for this game,” said Dorsey.

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The game was a thriller and went down to the wire. Dorsey, who had 13 points and 12 rebounds, fouled out with 24 seconds left. Rhodes exploited his absence with a rebound dunk that cut Memphis’ lead to 75-72, time down to 10 ticks. Then, Rose was fouled and made 1-of-2 free throws. Jamont Gordon hit a layup for Mississippi State on the next play to make it 74-72 with 4.2 seconds to go. The Bulldogs gave up a quick foul to send Chris Douglas-Roberts to the line and he hit 1-of-2 foul shots. Mississippi had the last possession but Gordon missed a triple at the buzzer as Memphis won, 77-74. That ended the Bulldogs’ season and Rhodes’ collegiate career.

Rhodes finished with 14 points on 7-of-14 from the field, 10 rebounds (four offensive), one assist and one blocked shot. He anchored the Bulldogs’ physical interior defense. Late in the first half, he bludgeoned Memphis’ 5-10 Andre Allen on a drive to the basket. Allen was so banged up that he couldn’t take the free throws which Douglas-Roberts shot in his place. Taggart was first off the bench for Calipari and delivered two points on 2-of-2 free throws, seven boards, one blocked shot. He was 0-of-3 from the floor. While Taggart was outshone by Rhodes, he had the last laugh as Memphis went all the way to the final, eventually losing to Kansas, 75-68, in the championship game. Mississippi wound up the campaign with a 23-11 record and advanced beyond the first round in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 12 years.

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 Rhodes averaged 17.4 points and 7.8 rebounds as a senior that season. Taggart averaged 5.9 points and 4.2 boards as a sixth man. The next year, Taggart was promoted to the starting lineup and averaged 10.4 points and 7.6 rebounds as a senior. He later played in Israel, China, Ukraine, Turkey, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates before signing up with GlobalPort in the PBA last season. Taggart averaged 34.4 points and 14.8 rebounds for the Batang Pier in five games in the previous Commissioner’s Cup. After finishing at Mississippi State, Rhodes saw action in Latvia, Spain, Turkey, Israel and Korea.

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In San Miguel’s 109-80 romp over Mahindra at Cuneta last Wednesday, Rhodes collected 20 points, 18 rebounds and three blocked shots in 31:07 minutes. From two-point range, he was unstoppable with 8-of-8 field goals. With JuneMar Fajardo at center, Rhodes plays the power forward position so coach Leo Austria has the luxury of a double-barrelled post threat. Arwind Santos now comes off the bench and Austria’s rotation has given Marcio Lassiter a lot of space to jack up unmolested shots. Against Mahindra, Lassiter erupted for 18 points on 6-of-10 triples. What makes San Miguel so frighteningly fearsome is its defense with Rhodes the anchor as he was for Mississippi State. Mahindra, for instance, was held to 31 points in the first half – 16 in the opening period and 15 in the second. In that game, San Miguel scored 32 points in the first quarter.

But Rain or Shine could pose problems for San Miguel with its depth. Taggart is averaging 27.5 points, 12.7 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.5 blocked shots while Rhodes’ numbers are 22.5 points, 12.5 rebounds, 1.3 assists and 1.8 blocked shots. Rhodes claims he’s playing only at 80 percent capacity. Taggart is more physically imposing than Rhodes and their duel is worth the price of admission for sure. 

Elasto Painters coach Caloy Garcia has a lot of weapons to keep San Miguel’s defense busy. James Yap, Jeff Chan and Jericho Cruz are tested scorers. Beau Belga, Jewel Ponferada and Raymond Almazan are tough inside and outside.  Gabe Norwood, Chris Tiu and Maverick Ahanmisi provide stability in the mix. Rain or Shine got off to a hot 3-0 start then lost two heartbreakers to Meralco by six and Alaska by three but is back on track after outlasting Phoenix, 96-94, last Sunday. The Painters hope to hang the first loss on San Miguel this conference. It’ll be a tall order as the Beermen are playing like they’re a cut above the rest with an average winning margin of 13.5 points.

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