By REYNALD MAGALLON
The Nueva Ecjia Rice Vanguards used a huge fourth quarter rally to beat Imus-Buracai de Laiya, 82-76, and arrange a Chooks to Go-MPBL Invitational Finals showdown with Basilan-Jumbo Plastic Medical Depot Wednesday at the SM Mall of Asia Arena.
A blistering 19-3 run to start off the payoff period proved to be the push the Rice Vanguards needed to change the complexion of the game, turning a 55-58 disadvantage into a 74-61 lead with 3:55 left in the game.
The champion team on Thursday night gets the top prize of P2 million.
Byron Villarias connived with Michael Mabulac in that backbreaking run by scoring eight of his 13 points.
Mabulac, who was earlier named MVP of the tournament, finished with a double-double performance of 17 points and 15 rebounds.
JP Sarao provided support for the Rice Vanguards with 13 points while Chris Bitoon also added 12 markers.
Earlier, Michael Juico shrugged off an injury scare to power Basilan Jumbo Plastic Medical Depot past Sta. Lucia Pasig Realtors, 77-72.
Juico hurt his knee in the third quarter but managed to still finish the game and put up a game-high 23 points that went with five rebounds and five assists.
“So far ngayon okay kasi mataas pa yung adrenaline ko, tingnan natin mamaya. Wala nang reason dito kailangan maglaro ng Finals kahit masakit o hindi, tuloy pa rin kami,” said Juico after the game.
Basilan however had to fend off a furious second half rally from the Realtors led by star guard Fran Yu who anchored his team’s comeback bid from 18-points down in the first half.
Sta. Lucia managed to cut the lead down to single digit in the final frame but Basilan kept them at bay behind timely hits from Juico and forward Jay Collado who finished with 17 points.