Aces face tough schedule

Joaquin Henson - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines — Alaska will come off a two-week break, prompted by health protocols, to play three straight games starting tomorrow at the Don Honorio Ventura State University gym in Bacolor, Pampanga, and coach Jeff Cariaso said yesterday the schedule is an added challenge to break into the PBA Philippine Cup playoffs with five contests left to improve on the Aces’ 2-4 record.

First in Alaska’s order of battle is Barangay Ginebra tomorrow then TNT the next day and Terrafirma on Sunday. Games against San Miguel Beer and NorthPort will still be set. “The players who were isolated for safety protocols will return on Friday (tomorrow),” said Aces coach Jeff Cariaso. “We shall see what their condition is and evaluate them accordingly. Regardless, the situation calls for three consecutive games and we’ll focus on staying in the present. Right now, Ginebra is our main concern.”

The other day, Alaska practiced with only eight players as the others are expected to exit quarantine either this afternoon or tomorrow morning in time to suit up for the game against Ginebra. Some players had to go home to recover and will only be cleared by doctors today. Rookie RK Ilagan, for instance, will return from quarantine tomorrow but should be available for the game that night. In his PBA debut, Ilagan hit eight points in less than two minutes as Alaska beat Blackwater, 103-77, last July 16. Then he pulled his hamstring in practice and missed four outings in a row. Ilagan was scoreless in his comeback appearance against NLEX last Sept. 2.

“This kid (Ilagan) is tough and has an awesome work ethic,” said Cariaso. “You’ll definitely see more of him.” Aside from Ilagan, Cariaso has three other rookies in the Aces roster – Ben Adamos, Taylor Browne and Alec Stockton. “I see all the rookies going through that adjustment needed in their first year,” he said. “All four are definitely going through the learning curve now. We feel the four all have the potential to have future impact for the Aces.”

Cariaso said the immediate priority is to get healthy. “Once we begin, we know the games will be consecutive,” he said. “It’s a different set-up. It’s not normal. But these last two years, there has been a need to adjust and play under conditions that are new.” A bright spot among the newcomers is Gab Banal, a 2014 second round pick signed as a free agent in the offseason. Banal, who played four games for GlobalPort in 2015-16 and 2016-17, is averaging 11 points with a high of 20. “Gab’s challenge now is consistency,” said Cariaso.

Cariaso said he’s hoping the Aces backcourt steps up in the coming games. “Jvee’s (Casio) role along with the other guards like Maverick (Ahanmisi) and Mike (DiGregorio) plays a big factor in our success,” he said. “They’re crucial in playing impactful minutes and leading the team. We definitely have things to improve on. In my opinion, our free throws have cost us two games this conference. Defensive stats are more important to me. Points allowed, rebounding differential and fastbreak points allowed, to name a few, are basic categories we chart and look at.”

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