MANILA, Philippines -- The Alaska Aces got their breakthrough victory in the 2020 PBA Philippine Cup on Saturday, when they held off the Magnolia Hotshots for an 87-81 win at the AUF Gym in Angeles City, Pampanga.
The hard-earned win snapped a two-game slide, putting the Aces at 1-2 in the All-Filipino tournament and getting their campaign off the ground.
For Alaska coach Jeff Cariaso and the Aces, however, their mindset heading into the contest was quite different. Rather than thinking they were at 0-2, the team believed that they deserved a 1-1 record instead.
"To be honest with you, we approached this game thinking we were 1-1," Cariaso said after Saturday's win.
"I say that because we felt that we should have won that first game," he explained.
Alaska's first game was a 100-95 defeat to the TNT Tropang Giga -- a game that saw them squander a double-digit lead in the first quarter and give up 45 points to TNT swingman Roger Pogoy. Their execution down the stretch sputtered, as did their defense as Jayson Castro made all the right plays for the Tropang Giga down the stretch.
Yet their performance against a powerhouse TNT team gave Cariaso plenty of hope.
"Mistakes we made were our mistakes, things that we could control," said Cariaso. "When you approach it that way, compared to being 0-2, I think your mindset is different."
"So, you know, like I said, you come into this game and you know, a very well-coached and talented Magnolia team, and they have superstars on their team that we have to really be worried about," he added.
"And, to be able to step up and be better defensively was I think, my biggest take on tonight's game."
Cariaso was particularly proud of their defense on Magnolia's Paul Lee, who was held to 14 points on 4-of-16 shooting from the field. In their previous game, Lee capped the Hotshots' comeback against NLEX with a clutch four-point play, but the Aces refused to give him an opportunity to break their hearts as well.
The coach said it was a team effort, with Mike DiGregorio, Robbie Herndon, MJ Ayaay, and even JVee Casio seeing minutes against Lee.
"There's really not one person who can defend Paul Lee," Cariaso noted. "Our purpose (was) to get a few guys guarding him, guys who've had some rest and are not tired because guarding Paul is you know, you need to be ready."
"A lot of their offense is really revolving around him. So, we just wanted to mix it up a little bit, and I'm happy with the way the guys performed," he added.
With their 1-2 slate, the Aces are smack in the middle of the league standings heading into a showdown against the Blackwater Elite on Tuesday. Blackwater has been one of the surprises of the bubble, with new coach Nash Racela steering them to a 2-1 record.
Cariaso says the key for them is for his players to continue responding to his challenge, which is to improve upon every game.
"I challenge the guys, going into tonight's game that we just need to be better in what we do. And guys showed it tonight," he said after their win over Magnolia.
"Defensively, they were a lot better than in the first two games, so we just hope to improve as the conference goes on," he added.