Magnolia Pambansang Manok coach Chito Victolero believes his team has a strong chance of finally winning the PBA Philippine Cup title despite embracing the underdog tag against either San Miguel Beer or TNT.
The Hotshots’ 93-85 victory over the Meralco Bolts in Game 6 of their semifinal series Friday, Oct. 15 gave them their third Philippine Cup Finals in the last four seasons, and Victolero believes a lot has changed since the team’s previous appearances.
“In the last four years, we’ve been here tatlong beses na. And I think we matured,” Victolero said following the series-clincher at the Don Honorio Ventura State University in Bacolor, Pampanga.
Victolero said the mixture of seeing his longtime players like Ian Sangalang, Paul Lee and Mark Barroca, among others, plus the addition of Calvin Abueva has been the key in Magnolia’s success since the start of the conference.
Despite a 4-0 start, Magnolia wound up missing the twice-to-beat advantage after placing third in the eliminations at 8-3. But that didn’t deter the Hotshots' confidence, sweeping the Rain or Shine Elasto Painters in the quarters before taking care of the No. 2-ranked Bolts in the semis.
“This group matured a lot, especially our chemistry. We added new guys like Calvin, Aris Dionisio, Jerrick Ahanmisi, Jack Corpuz. But you know, we built the chemistry and I thought na yun yung malaking factor sa amin in order for us to compete and to have a chance to win the championship,” said Victolero.
Despite being confident that the third time could be a charm in the PBA’s most prestigious tournament, Victolero said the winner of the other semis affair will come into the title series with more firepower than Magnolia.
The eliminations saw Magnolia losing to TNT by a wide margin, 83-76, last Sept. 5 after the latter pulled away late in the third behind Kelly Williams and Jayson Castro.
Magnolia, on the other hand, prevailed over San Miguel, 100-90, 14 days later with Lee erupting for 18 of his 32 points in the final quarter.
A SMB win will set up a trilogy between the two San Miguel Corporation-owned teams in the Philippine Cup Finals, with the Beermen ending up victorious both times.
SMB claimed the first meeting back in 2018, bouncing back from a Game 1 loss to take the series in five.
Magnolia came close to avenging that setback with a 3-2 lead in 2019, only for San Miguel to climb back and win Games 6 and 7 for its fifth straight Philippine Cup.
Victolero and the Hotshots now have the luxury of a long rest while being interested spectators in the fight for survival between the Tropang Giga and the Beermen on Sunday.
“Wala kaming pipiliin dun,” he said. “Parehas sobrang lakas ng dalawang team na yun, sobrang talented, sobrang deep. Wala kaming pipiliin dun.
“We’re very happy lang na nandito kami sa finals. We just try to prepare hard kung sino man yung makatapat namin.”