Vic Manuel took charge in a big way to tow Phoenix past his former team Alaska, 101-93, and help the Fuel Masters snap out of their funk in the 2021 PBA Philippine Cup Saturday at the Ynares Sports Arena in Pasig.
Manuel, who went up for the first time against the same team he called home for seven seasons, scored 15 of his 26 points in a pivotal second quarter and also added 12 rebounds and two assists for a Phoenix team that missed the services of injured star Matthew Wright (sprained ankle) against the Aces.
RJ Jazul wound up 19 points and four threes, as well as four free throws that helped stave off a late Alaska comeback. Aljun Melecio fired 13 points and two triples, while Jason Perkins tacked on 12 points, eight rebounds and three steals for the Fuel Masters, who finally put a win on the board after dropping their first two games in the season's opening tournament.
Big man Jake Pascual also breached double-figures with 10 and six boards in 24 minutes off the bench.
"Coach (Topex Robinson) reminded me earlier that Matt wasn't playing and told me that I should lead the way tonight," Manuel said in Filipino during the post-game presser. "So I came in with a lot of confidence because my coach, my teammates and the coaching staff trusted me."
Phoenix, however, had to deal with a late fightback from an Alaska team determined not to lose a second straight game.
A big third quarter that saw Phoenix lead by as many as 23 appeared to have taken the wind out of Alaska's sails, but the Aces slowly chipped away and hustled all the way back to make it a seven-point game, 98-91, after an Abu Tratter finish off a timeout put them there with 41 seconds remaining.
A Jazul free throw and a stop on the other end gave the Fuel Masters a bit of a buffer in the following possessions, but a Robbie Herndon steal later led to another Tratter basket that drew the Aces a little closer, 99-93, with 17 seconds remaining.
Fortunately, Phoenix managed to stop the bleeding with a pair of shots at the line from Jazul four seconds later to seal the result.
"Matt wasn't here, so it really was important for the others to contribute. That was a total team effort. Coaches did a good job preparing for the game, and players really competed and grinded it out with Alaska," Robinson remarked.
Phoenix hit 44 percent of its shots and caught fire from long range, where the team buried 15-for-33 triples (45 percent) -- a stark showing from the first two games where the Fuel Masters made just 32.9 percent of their field goals and hit a discouraging 10-for-65 3s (15.3 percent).
A strong first quarter start gave Alaska an eight-point lead, 26-18, after one, but a second quarter assault behind Manuel eventually turned things around for Phoenix.
Manuel led a 13-3 start by the Fuel Masters to put them ahead, 31-29, then the 34-year-old veteran later went to work late in the period and scored nine straight points to give his team an 11-point lead, 53-42, entering the halftime break.
It only got better for Phoenix in the third frame, where Perkins, Melecio and Justin Chua took turns torching the Aces defense.
Chua, who was held scoreless in the first half, poured in seven in a 12-3 opening salvo that pushed the lead to 20, 65-45, at the 8:56 mark.
Perkins was consistent for most of the third period, where he scored eight of his points along with a pair of threes to help stave off any Aces comeback.
Melecio provided an additional kick to the offense by hitting two threes and scoring six straight of his nine third-quarter points to finish off the frame.
Alaska, however, did not go away easily and outscored Phoenix 32-17 in the final frame to remain within reach.
The Aces fell to 1-2, but the team did get a good game from Gab Banal, who finished with 17 points and four triples. Tratter also threw in a 16-point, 10-rebound double-double, while Herndon contributed 13 points and four boards off the bench.
Phoenix (101)- Manuel 26, Jazul 19, Melecio 13, Perkins 12, Pascual 10, Rios 9, Garcia 5, Chua 7, Muyang 0, Demusis 0, Tamsi 0.
Alaska (93) - Banal 17, Tratter 14, Herndon 13, Taha 9, DiGregorio 8, Teng 8, Adamos 7, Brondial 6, Ahanmisi 5, Casio 2, Stockton 2, Marcelino 0.
Quarter scores: 18-26, 53-42, 84-61, 101-93.
- Robinson assured that Wright's condition is not that serious. "Matt had an injury yesterday, during practice. We didn't want to gamble on him. He's not really 100%, and that's why we just decided not to play Matt just to prepare him for our game on Wednesday. That's big for us. At this point, we want to make sure that we're going to be smart with our decisions as far as our players are concerned. That was a decision that the management and the coaching staff made prior to the game."
- Phoenix also played without Chris Banchero, who continues to recover from a calf injury.
- Alaska vs. Rain or Shine on July 28, Wednesday, at 3:00 p.m
- Phoenix vs. Meralco on July 28, Wednesday, at 6:00 p.m