TWO of the winningest teams in the PBA Philippine Cup are meeting for the sixth time in the prestigious conference starting today at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
San Miguel Beer, which had won eight All-Filipino titles – the most by any team in the PBA – and Magnolia collide 7 p.m. today in the opener of the best-of-7 finals duel which is a rematch between the best teams in the import-less tournament.
The Beermen and the Hotshots had actually met five times in the All-Filipino, with the former winning four of them, the last one during last season when they ran away with their 25th title overall.
The only instance where the Hotshots prevailed in their head-to-head happened during the 1993 season when the team, then still called Coney Island Ice Cream Stars, defeated the Beermen, 4-2, with a team backstopped by Dwight Lago, Benny Cheng, Freddie Abuda and Olsen Racela among others.
The Stars’ coach then was Chot Reyes, who achieved a milestone for winning the title in his first conference as coach.
The Hotshots though had their last taste of the prestigious title when they beat Rain or Shine during their grand slam year in 2014 under coach Tim Cone. All in all, Magnolia had won it six times (1991, 1993, 1997, 2006, 2010 and 2014).
Now, that could give Magnolia coach Chito Victolero and the rest of his charges much motivation and give the Beermen a run for their money in the championship showdown where SMB is the odds-on favorite for so many reasons.
The Hotshots though still have the core of that 2014 champion team and that probably gives Victolero some sort of confidence against the star-studded San Miguel side.
“I think nag-mature na kami. We’ve gained a lot of experience especially with the championship we won last conference,” said Victolero, referring to the Governors’ Cup the Hotshots won last season.
“Malaking bagay iyon, yung experience at maturity na tangan na ngayon ng grupong ito,” added Victolero, who is counting on Rafi Reavis, Ian Sangalang, Kyle Pascual, Rodney Brondial and Aldrech Ramos who are among the biggies in his lineup.
Indeed, Victolero is expected to use these tall cagers because they are up against a formidable SMB team backstopped by twin-towers in June Mar Fajardo and Christian Standhardinger.
Magnolia has a host of able shooters, including Paul Lee, Marc Barroca, Peter June Simon, Jio Jalalon, and Justin Melton, but just as excellent are SMB’s outside shooters, including Marcio Lassiter, Arwind Santos, Alex Cabagnot, Chris Ross and Terrence Romeo.
“The core group ‘yun pa rin, so magandang chemistry na ang nabuo namin. Malaking bagay yon,” added Victolero.
In its run-up to second straight finals appearance, Magnolia survived a tough struggle in the semifinals where it needed seven excruciating games to dispose of Rain or Shine.
SMB coach Leo Austria acknowledged that.
“Mabigat ang kanilang mga pinagdaanan na nagbigay sa kanila ng experience at maturity. And I believe they would be very competitive,” said Austria.
The Hotshots may be a better team now but the Beermen remain the team that has developed what Austria describe as “a habit of winning.”
“Winning is a lifestyle for us. We have that great passion for winning,” said Austria.
SMB is gunning for a record fifth straight Philippine Cup title and Magnolia is intent on ending a five-year drought on the league’s most prestigious tourney. SMB had won the Philippine Cup eight times (1989, 1992, 1994, 2001, 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018)
The Hotshots, however, admit they’re faced with daunting task.
“Mahirap dahil San Miguel ang kalaban. We’re the underdogs, ibibigay lang namin ang 100 percent every game, kung ano ang result, happy kami. Kung sa dulo, may chance, we’ll grab it,” said Paul Lee.
Victolero insists it’s not June Mar Fajardo alone.
“Buong SMB team ang concern namin. Grabe ang samahan nila, grabe ang maturity nila. Kami nagsisimula pa lang. Pero excited din naman kami kung ano ang nangyayari sa team namin. As long as meron chemistry, we have a chance,” said Victolero.
All games in the series are to be held at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.