MANILA, Philippines -- Reynel Hugnatan found himself in the middle of controversy over the past couple of days, as the Meralco veteran was alleged to have accused a referee of "luto" in Game 3 of their semifinal series against Barangay Ginebra.
Someone -- it is still unclear who -- said, "Ref, lutong-luto 'to ah" in Game 3 of the All-Filipino Cup semis series, which Ginebra won 91-84 last Sunday.
Fingers were pointed at Hugnatan, who has denied saying any such thing. In an interview with the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the veteran said he was aware of the accusations but was unbothered as he knows "the truth."
[embed on 'Philippine Daily Inquirer': https://sports.inquirer.net/409428/pba-to-probe-luto-claim-against-referee-hugnatan-denies-accusation]
On Wednesday, Hugnatan shifted the narrative. The 42-year-old big man silenced any talk about the "luto" accusation and the subsequent investigation by the league, and instead showed that he can still get the job done inside the court.
Hugnatan had a team-best 19 points in the Bolts' 83-80 win that sent the series to a do-or-die Game 5. He drilled the go-ahead jumper with 15 seconds left, cashing in on a key pass from Chris Newsome to give Meralco an 81-80 lead.
"'Yung play kasi noon, kay Newsome 'yun eh. So 'yung time na si New, na-cover, so tama, nakita niya ako open," said Hugnatan afterward. "Noong pinasa niya sa akin, wala na akong ibang inisip kung 'di tumira."
"Sa awa ng Diyos pumasok naman," he added.
It was just the latest in a series of big games for Hugnatan in the conference. The veteran is playing as well as ever for the Bolts, averaging 11.1 points and 5.0 rebounds per game while providing a steadying presence for the team.
Meralco coach Norman Black said the controversy surrounding Hugnatan in the past few days did not distract the Bolts from the task at hand.
"I gotta be honest with you, we haven't really talked about that. It's not our focus. Just focused on the game," said Black.
"Reynel has not said a word to me about that since it happened. I haven't talked to him about it either, so it's kind of a non-issue as far as we're concerned," he added.
For Black, what mattered was that Hugnatan and Newsome were able to execute the play that they set up at the end of the game.
"We just wanted to get the first good available shot, and the play was actually between Reynel Hugnatan and Chris Newsome," said Black, who explained that Newsome had the choice on what to do, depending on how the Ginebra defense reacted.
Newsome wound up drawing the defense to him, and he fired a pass to a wide-open Hugnatan who showed no hesitation in putting up the big shot.
"They executed it well, but of course you still gotta make the shot," said Black. "No matter how well you execute, you gotta make the shot to finish the play. That's a huge shot for Reynel Hugnatan."
The series is now tied at 2-2, with Game 5 set for Friday, still at the Angeles University Foundation Gym in Angeles City, Pampanga.