(Smart Araneta Coliseum)
5 p.m. – San Miguel vs Star
Ricardo Ratliffe presents a major stumbling block in the San Miguel Beermen’s quest for a second straight finals appearance as they start their best-of-five semifinal showdown with the Star Hotshots today in the PBA Commissioner’s Cup at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Ratliffe’s arrival in late-May to replace Tony Mitchell has resulted in five consecutive victories for the Hotshots, including a sweep of the Rain or Shine Elasto Painters in the just-concluded quarterfinals that set up a highly-anticipated showdown with the Beermen which starts today at 5 p.m.
San Miguel coach Leo Austria, whose team took the easy route to the semis by dominating Phoenix in the quarters, acknowledged that Ratliffe’s presence coupled with a deep local lineup would give his squad plenty of challenges in the series.
“Aware kami sa nangyayari sa kanila and we have to prepare really hard sa kanila dahil very determined sila ngayon,” Austria said. “We’ll see on Saturday kung ano meron kami at ano meron sila, we need a lot of focus para sa team na to dahil powerhouse team sila.”
From an outsider’s perspective, Austria said that Ratliffe has brought not just the numbers, but also the confidence to the rest of the Hotshots.
“Ang maganda kay Ratliffe di lang siya may opensa, may depensa din siya and nadadala niya ang team dahil every game halos 30 points at halos 20 rebounds siya. At makikita mo naman nilalaro ng mga locals, iba ‘yung body language nila because they have somebody na sasandalan talaga,” he said.
Austria is also on the lookout for Paul Lee, who he said would pose a defensive nightmare should he find his offensive rhythm, Mark Barroca, a major contributor on both ends in Star’s victory over Rain or Shine, and Aldrech Ramos, a five-year forward that has been solid Hotshots coach Chito Victolero.
But Victolero also has other players in his arsenal, particularly shooter Allein Maliksi, pesky rookie guard Jio Jalalon and veteran center Rafi Reavis.
Victolero’s main plan will be having Ratliffe as a major force in the paint. Ratliffe will have a challenge of his own, a familiar foe in Beermen counterpart Charles Rhodes, who he faced numerous times in South Korea.