Cagayan Valley and Cebuana Lhuillier clash on Thursday in the deciding Game 3 of their PBA D-League Aspirants Cup semifinal series.
After sweeping the 11-game eliminations, the Rising Suns are pushed to their limits in a series many thought would be easy and quick for the top seeds.
Facing elimination, they asserted themselves in Game 2 with 6-7 Moala Tautuaa making the big plays in the closing minute as Cagayan Valley came away with a 98-93 victory to even the series and forced the rubber match.
Game time is 3 p.m. at The Arena in San Juan. The winner advances to the best-of-three titular series against second-seed Hapee, which swept Café France in the other semifinal matchup.
“It’s anybody’s ball game. Bilog ang bola,” offered Cagayan Valley coach Alvin Pua on their chances to wrap-up series.
Tautuaa finished with 26 points and had 13 rebounds in Game 2 and the way Pua figured it out, Tautuaa’s dominance will be a big factor in the crucial match.
“Kailangan ma-dominate naming ang boards. So totoo lang mas malakas ang line-up ng Cebuana. Wala naman talaaga kaming malaki. Si [Tautuaa] lang ang malaki namin na athletic na pwedeng makipag-sabayan,” Pua observed.
The U.S born Fil-Tongan said he is up to the task but needs the support of his teammates.
“We have a lot of good shooters around me and I want to expose that. By helping them they help me. We are a team that’s why we all wear the same jersey. But when it’s my time to score I score,” said Tautuaa, the league’s top draft pick overall.
“If we got hit, we got hit. That’s how the basketball goes. We just gonna hope the calls fall our way and our shots fall.”
After their stunning 89-85 victory in the opener, the Gems had a chance to finish off the Rising Suns in Game 2. They battled back from 13 points down, tied the count at 83-83 late in the fourth but missed the opportunities due to poor executions in the stretch.
Simon Enciso, who tallied 22 points in Game 1 managed just six points in Game 2 as Cebuana’s backcourt struggled to find their rhythm. The Gems’ bigs were also out of sync allowing Cagayan’s frontline to frolic in the paint.
Since the league was launched in 2010, no sixth-seed team has made it to the Finals.
Cebuana coach Boysie Zamar said he has urged his players to treat every game as a knockout game. Certainly, this is one game they can’t afford to lose.