SMART CLARK GIGA CITY–Mike DiGregorio greatly responded to the challenge laid down by Alaska head coach Jeff Cariaso on Thursday.
DiGregorio was assigned the tough task of defending Phoenix’s main gunner Matthew Wright for almost the entirety of the Aces’ 105-97 victory over the Fuel Masters at the Angeles University Foundation Sports Arena.
And the first-year Milkman did not disappoint.
The 6-foot-3 Wright did score a game-high 27 points, but only made eight of his 20 shots which were mostly contested by the smaller, 6-foot-1 DiGregorio.
“Credit Mike DiGregorio. In the second half, he did a solid job in doing the small detail defensively that we asked of him. Obviously, no one’s gonna be able to stop Matthew but he made it hard for him,” said Cariaso, whose team improved to 5-3 midway through the 45th PBA Philippine Cup.
With DiGregorio already known as an offensive threat, Cariaso said they challenged Fil-Italian cager to work on his defense since he got traded by TNT to Alaska for Simon Enciso and a 2023 second round pick earlier this year.
“He’s naturally a shooter. What is expected of him is to be better on the other aspects of his game. We asked him, since day one, one of the weaknesses he needs to improve on is his defense. So (I told him), if you wanna stay on the court you have to defend,” said the 48-year-old mentor.
DiGregorio, a finalist for the Most Improved Player award in 2017, did damage on the offensive end, pouring 14 of his 21 points in the fourth quarter to spark the Aces’ pivotal run together with Vic Manuel.
More than his scoring exploits, Cariaso was impressed on how DiGregorio answered his call.
“Tonight, I think he kind of brought all that together in regards to understanding how we wanted to defend Matt,” said Cariaso.
“Like I said, there’s no way you can stop Matthew. You just try to make it hard for him. Make him make tough shots. That was what he was doing. He stayed on the court because I think he did all the little things well.”