THEY are facing opponents who have come out and played as sharp as could be expected.
Yet Barangay Ginebra coach Jong Uichico and Purefoods counterpart Ryan Gregorio are pleading with their players to first hurdle their biggest enemy, ones that lie within themselves.
“We want players that, even when things are not going well, they’ll find a way,” said Uichico.
“They need to step up,” stated Gregorio.
The words came after the Giants and Kings suffered lopsided 104-79 and 99-83 losses to San Miguel Beer and Alaska, respectively, last Wednesday at the start of the 2009-10 KFC PBA Philippine Cup semifinal series at the Araneta Coliseum.
The second games of the best-of-seven duels resume Friday at the Cuneta Astrodome and the urgent calls were made in order for the trailers to avoid falling into a deeper hole.
Coaches Siot Tanquingcen of the Beermen and Tim Cone of the Aces shrugged off their Game 1 victories and pointed out they still need to win three more. They also gave much weight to the physical and emotional fatigue their opponents must still be suffering from after going through gruelling five-game quarterfinal affairs that ended only last Sunday.
Their main task, they added, is to brace for a much-improved adversary Friday.
“We have to make sure we don’t fall into a false sense of security,” said Tanquingcen. “First game, parang feeling-out stage lang. Sa second, parang mentality-wise, they’ll think, ‘Back into another series na.’ That’s the time na talagang bakbakan na.”
“We all know what Ginebra’s like, what coach Uichico’s like,” said Cone. “One thing about Jong, he doesn’t panic and because of that, Ginebra’s not gonna panic. They’re gonna take a deep breath, get more focused, then come out and play better.”
For the losing coaches, however, their players unable to find the will to come out and play with more energy is the very root of the problem.
“Nobody really stepped up except for Kerby (Raymundo) and Ping (Marc Pingris). The others were simply absent,” rued Gregorio.
Raymundo paced the team with 18 points while Pingris had 17 points and 10 rebounds. Roger Yap was the lone other double-digit producer for the Giants with 10.
Three days after scoring 28 points in the clincher against Rain or Shine, James Yap scored only eight points – all on charities – as he went 0-of-8 from the field.
“Unfortunately, James probably went full throttle against Rain or Shine in Game 5 and he didn’t have enough gas for today’s game,” noted Gregorio. “We really need James to step up for us and consistently score in order for us to compete and eventually win against San Miguel.”
James Yap’s main reliever, PJ Simon, still has not fully recovered from a knee injury and Paul Artadi is playing with a hamstring pull. That really puts the burden on the other Purefoods players to chip in more than their usual share.
San Miguel is tough enough, especially since its erstwhile injured players are back into their lethal forms.
Jay Washington, Danny Seigle and Danny Ildefonso, who suited up for a total 13 games in the 18-game eliminations, each had at least 10 points and two rebounds in the series opener, complementing usual go-to guys Arwind Santos, Dondon Hontiveros and Denok Miranda.
“When we (were about to) play San Miguel we just really worked on Arwind Santos, Dondon Hontiveros, Jay Washington. And now we have the two Dannys to prepare for,” said Gregorio.
Another player on the comeback trail, Mark Caguioa, showed the way for Ginebra against Alaska. The man who has played a total of only three games in the eliminations and sparingly used in the quarters wound up with 23 points.
But Sunday Salvacion was the only noticeable chipper for the Kings with 14 points as the likes of JC Intal, Ronald Tubid and Eric Menk were stifled. Worse, Celino Cruz and Menk suffered foot sprains in the opener and are doubtful starters Friday.
Which only aggravates Uichico more as he pointed an accusing finger at some of his remaining players who showed little of the spirit Ginebra is known for.“Iba naman iyung players that have bad games. There’s a difference between players that have bad games but are trying. Iyun ang importante doon, wala ka nang magagawa doon,” he said. “But players that are not trying, that’s really disappointing.”