ALASKA kept finding a way to win even in the absence of star player Calvin Abueva and rookie Jeron Teng after turning back Magnolia Pambansang Manok in closely-fought game Sunday night, 103-99, in the PBA Commissioner's Cup at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
The Aces trailed, 87-88, with four minutes remaining when Casio found himself underneath alone for an easy two to give the team the lead for good, 89-88.
Vic Manuel and JVee Casio combined to score the 15 of the Aces' final 17 points to hack out their sixth straight win and a formal berth in the eighth-team quarterfinals.
The Aces improved to a 6-1 record as they advanced in the playoffs of an import-laden tournament for the first time in two seasons. They also won their second straight game without Abueva, suspended indefinitely by the team, and Teng on board.
Manuel scored 35 big points, a new career-high which surpassed the 29 markers he poured against TnT Katropa in Antipolo City last May 13, including 17 in the pivotal period, while Casio had all of his eight points in the fourth.
"I don't know what to say, he just went on," said coach Alex Compton of his prized 6-foot-3 power forward. "He's pretty phenomenal."
A few minutes later, Manuel completed a three-point play off the long, outstretched arms of veteran big man Rafi Reavis as Alaska stretched the lead to 92-88.
"For Vic to score the way he did against a smart, long defender like Rafi was really amazing," added Compton.
Import Antonio Campbell had a quiet 26-point, 15-rebound effort for Alaska on the night the franchise formally retired the no. 35 playing jersey of forward Tony dela Cruz, now part of the Aces' coaching staff.
The loss foiled the league debut of new Magnolia import Justin Jackson, who finished with 21 points, 13 rebounds, and six assists as a replacement for Curtis Kelly. He also missed an easy, two-handed dunk inside the final minute that could have cut down a five-point Alaska lead.
The Hotshots also lost their third straight game and fell to a 3-4 record for a tie at seventh to eighth places with Globalport.
Paul Lee also finished with 21 points for Magnolia, 19 of them in the second half and was 4-of-8 from three-point range.
The Hotshots kept the game close for the most part and had their last taste of the lead on a Johnson basket before Casio and Manuel finally caught fire for the Aces.
"I thought that was a playoff game there," said Compton of the match which had 10 lead changes and eight deadlocks.(RG)
Alaska 103 - Manuel 35, Campbell 28, Thoss 9, Casio 8, Banchero 7, Enciso 6, Racal 5, Baclao 4, Exciminiano 1, Pascual R. 0.
Magnolia 99 - Lee 21, Jackson 21, Melton 14, Reavis 9, Simon 9, Barroca 9, Dela Rosa 9, Jalalon 4, Herndon 2, Brondial 1, Pascual 0, Ramos 0.
Quarters: 23-16, 46-39, 71-70, 103-99.