MACAU – After slamming the door on the defending champion, San Miguel Beer tries to get the top title contender out of the way next.
The Beermen battle title favorite Liaoning Flying Leopards in one of the semifinal pairings of the East Asia League Terrific 12 on Saturday, eyeing a win over a team that featured former NBA players Lance Stephenson and Salah Mejri for a berth in the winner-take-all final.
The two champion ballclubs of the PBA and Chinese counterpart CBA clash in the 7 p.m. main game at the Tap Seac Multisport Pavilion.
The first semis game between Group A topnotcher Seoul SK Knights and Group C leader Zhejiang Guangsha Lions is set at 5 p.m.
Two CBA teams and one each from the PBA and KBL comprised this year’s Final Four cast.
The Beermen made the semis after topping Group B by ousting deposed champion Ryukyu Golden Kings on Thursday, 101-92, behind the 42-point explosion of import Dezmine Wells. The team ended the group stage with a 2-0 record.
The Flying Leopards also posted a 2-0 record to emerge as top qualifier in Group D that set up their showdown with the Beermen.
Coach Leo Austria admitted the presence of Stephenson, who played for a long time with the Indiana Pacers, is somehow going to be a burden for the only surviving PBA team in the tournament.
“First of all, its’ a great opportunity for our team especially the players who look up to Lance Stephenson when he was still playing in the NBA. Everybody knows him,” he said of the 29-year-old Cincinnati product, who’s so far averaging 28.0 points per game in the meet.
Then there is also the 7-foot-2 Mejri, who previously played for the Dallas Maverick and just recently helped Tunisia whip Gilas Pilipinas, 86-67, in the FIBA World Cup in China.
“We still don’t know the strengths and weaknesses of the other team (Liaoning). They’re in the semis and that means they’re really good,” Austria added.
But the Beermen have also been playing good basketball in their first international foray as a team due in part to the 6-foot-3 Wells.
The explosive guard out of Maryland has been carrying the load for a San Miguel team that is playing minus three of its starters, submitting average of 35.5 points per game.
Terrence Romeo is also coming on his own in the meet as San Miguel’s second leading scorer behind Wells with a 17.5 points average.
The Beermen had so far been missing the services of big man June Mar Fajardo, Marcio Lassiter, and Alex Cabagnot. Except for Lassiter, Fajardo and Cabagnot are both day-to-day decision for the team.
“We don’t want to force the players (to play), if they feel something,” said Austria.