BAYUGAN City, Agusan del Sur – Kirby Bersaluna stepped into the void left by Mohammed Tosh Sesay, as he delivered his finest game as member of the University of Cebu Webmasters, to help the Mair Construction sponsored CESAFI to defeat the Madyaw Construction-backed Valenzuela Classic its first defeat, a heart-stopping 83-81 decision in the ongoing Mayor Kim Lope A. Asis Mayor’s Cup Invitational Basketball Tournament at the Lope Asis Memorial Gymnasium, Friday (June 28) morning.
UC never allowed Valenzuela to take the lead despite playing without its starting guard Shane Menina who was serving a one-game suspension and the early foul trouble and eventual fouling out of Sesay early in the fourth period.
However, UC’s campaign was slowed down when Sesay was called for his fourth personal foul before the half time break.
Without Sesay, Bersaluna and Rodel Gravera had to battle the big men of Valenzuela that is lead by ex-pro Hans Thiele. Thankfully, Valenzuela’s shooters were not as accurate as its previous games that allowed UC backcourt to help defend the middle and prevent the bigger and taller Classics from dominating the shaded area.
Valenzuela then dropped an 11-4 run to come within three points, 65-58 with 19.40 seconds left in the third before Sesay, scored 12 seconds later, to give UC a 70-65 breather. However, Sesay collected its fifth foul at the 7:36 mark leaving Bersaluna to battle for the rebounds and becoming the last line of defense for the Webmasters.
The game was closely fought from the start of the fourth, with UC keeping its heads above waters with Jabello and Paul Galinato answering the points delivered by Valenzuela. Thiele had the chance the even the game at 78-all, but he split his charities at the final 2:40 mark and Valenzuela failed to complete the offensive board that kept UC afloat for good.
A split free throw by Galinato at the 1:30 mark, Bersaluna scored on a baseline jumper (51.41 seconds) mark and a point-blank stab (11.30) on the ensuing plays gave coach Raul Alcoseba a sigh of relief. However, it was the defensive prowess of Bersaluna, a former member of the SHS-AdC Magis Eagles, including a crucial block on Carlo De Chavez’s drive at the 43.87 mark, helped UC survived the game.
Mel Mabigat scored for Valenzuela to make it 81-83 at the 1.40-second mark for the final tally. UC’s win opened up the race for the championship slot with the ARQ Builders-backed Far Eastern University (FEU) Tamaraws at the front with a 3-0 card. They could complete a four-game elimination round sweep as they face the MPBL-member squad Valenzuela at the 9PM game (June 28).
The win also gives a glimmer of hopes for the Vincare Pharma/SWU-Phinma Cobras to take the second slot to the championship as they shoot for the win an all-or-nothing game at 7PM (June 28).
In the event, FEU beats Valenzuela and SWU-Phinma defeats UC, there will be a triple tie situation for the no.2 finisher which will be resolved through a tie-breaker system. The other way round will also create a triple tie for the no.1 and no.2 finishes and will leave the Cobras out of the championship picture.
Jabello who was fearless and pesky all throughout the game scored 21 points, Tristan Albina who scattered six triples also made 21 points, Bersaluna dropped 17 points and Sesay finished with 11 points before fouling out were the players who scored double-digit for UC. De Chavez made 16 points, Thiele added 14, Mabigat tallied 11 and Jemar Guimpayan contributed 10 points for Valenzuela.
The ARQ Builders-FEU Tamaraws is the only unbeaten team up to this point following a 101-50 manhandling over the HMMED Enterprise/Cagayan de Oro Selection on Thursday evening game. /RCM
Mair Construction/UC (83) – Jabello 21, Albina 21, Bersaluna 17, Sesay 11, Galinato 8, Gabisan 2, Gravera 2, Lawas 1. Valenzuela (81) – Dechavez 16, Thiele 14, Mabigat 11, Guimpayan 10, Hubalde 9, Torrado 8, Kalaw 5, Alcober 4, Andaya 2, Arrelano 2. Quarter scores: 27-20; 51-41; 70-65; 83-81.