NLEX launched its campaign in the PBA Governors’ Cup on a high note, demolishing Phoenix, 123-116, behind a superb offensive anchored on five gunners on Saturday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Import Oluseyi 'Olu' Ashaolu steadied on both ends of the court and got enough complement from comebacking Kiefer Ravena, Philip Paniamogan, Paul Varilla and Larry Fonacier as the Road Warriors made a strong statement right on their first outing in the season-ending conference.
Ashaolu tallied 29 points, 11 rebounds and six assists and held his ground against Phoenix’s equally-dependable counterpart in Eugene Phelps to help the Road Warriors pull through in a game rich in highlight plays.
But it was Ravena, who used the recent World Cup in China as his launching pad for grand return to the pro league after serving out the FIBA-slapped suspension, debuted with flourish as he cut loose with 20 points, nine rebounds and seven assists for NLEX.
NLEX likewise frolicked from the outside, decking the Fuel Masters with 20 triples, four of them courtesy of Ravena himself.
NLEX entered the fourth period with a 94-84 lead which the Road Warriors stretched to 100-89 on Paniamogan triple, early in the period.
The Fuel Masters gallantly fought, moving within 111-109 on Phelps’ drive in the last six minutes mark. They were able to keep the game close behind Phelps, before Jericho Cruz restored order in NLEX offensive with a booming triple for a 120-113 lead, 24 seconds remaining.
Ashaolu managed just eight points and six rebounds in the first two quarters, but Ravena and JR Quinahan were there to keep NLEX in the thick of fight, respectively scoring 14 and 10 points.
Meanwhile, Barangay Ginebra coach Tim Cone is being eyed to handle the Philippine team to the 30th Southeast Asian Games which the country is hosting from Nov 30 to Dec 11.
Cone said he has been in discussion with Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas president Al Panlilio for the coaching stint in the biennial regional meet.
"I've been in conversation with SBP President Al Panlilio regarding the SEA Games head coaching position for basketball," said Cone in text message sent to media men on Saturday.
"I know that Mr. Panlilio and my boss, Alfrancis Chua, have also had discussions regarding the position," added Cone.
However, the two-time PBA grand slam champion has no plans of making an announcement yet, stressing that he has been discussing the matter with his family.
However, given the proximity of Ginebra's Governors' Cup debut game, the PBA's winningest coach said his focus for the time being is the Kings' game versus the Alaska Aces scheduled on Sunday.
"On Monday and after talking to my family, Mr. Panlilio and I will continue our conversation regarding the appointment, at which time we will come to a resolution," said Cone.
It has been 21 years ago since Cone first handled the national squad, then known as the Philippine Centennial team which was bannered by PBA stars Johnny Abarrientos, Vergel Meneses, Alvin Patrimonio, Jojo Lastimosa and Marlou Aquino. The team finished third in the Bangkok Asian Games in 1998.
Cone emerged as the top choice in a shortlist of candidates that will handle the Gilas squad that will be defending the 2019 SEA Games men's basketball crown.
NLEX (123) - Ashaolu 29, Ravena 20, Paniamogan 14, Fonacier 11, Varilla 11, Quinahan 10, Cruz 9, Miranda 7, Galanza 6, Ighalo 4, Soyud 2, Erram 0.
Phoenix (116) - Phelps 38, Wright 24, Chua 15, Mallari 14, Garcia 9, Jazul 7, Intal 5, Perkins 4, Marcelo 0, Potts 0, Kramer 0, Wilson 0.
Quarterscores: 27-29, 52-55, 94-84, 123-116.