BARAKO Bull's hard work through the most sacred days of the Holy Week paid off.
Gabe Freeman scattered 34 points and also had 19 rebounds, powering the Energy to a 106-85 victory over the Alaska Aces Easter Sunday and into the PBA Commissioner's Cup semifinals at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Ronald Tubid and Willie Miller each came up with a 20-point game as Barako's efforts from Maundy
Thursday to Black Saturday in practices enabled it to put an emphatic finish to the best-of-three quarterfinals series that went the distance.
As a result, the Energy lined themlseves up for a best-of-five semis duel with defending champion Talk ‘N Text starting Tuesday at the Ynares Center in Antipolo City.
"Una sa lahat, gusto kong pasalamatan ang Panginoon, pero I also have to give credit to my players," said Energy head coach Junel Baculi, in his first semis stint. "I told them before the game that there's only one stumbling block for us to the semifinals and you deserve to be there. They responded very well."
Baculi specifically singled out Freeman, who arrived Tuesday last week and promptly delivered 22
points and 17 rebounds in a 92-99 loss in Game 2.
The two-time Best Import awardee came in in lieu of the ineffective Reggie Okosa, who was in turn a replacement for Rodney White, who had to go home to attend to his ailing father but not after averaging a conference-best 29.8 points and 13.2 rebounds in the five games he played.
"You cannot ask anything more of him," said Baculi of Freeman. "He flew in straight from Canada, has recovered from jetlag and now gives you 34 points and 19 rebounds."
The blowout loss was hardly expected of Alaska, which seemed to have gained momentum following the way it bounced back from a 90-103 loss in the series opener.
Yet the Aces were basically outplayed since the early parts of the second quarter, an aftermath of what Baculi claimed was the excellent way his charges defended the likes of Cyrus Baguio, LA Tenorio and Mark Baracael.
"Those three combined for almost 60 points in Game 2 and really hurt us," noted Baculi. "Tonight we limited them to about 30 and that's a big difference."
Adam Parada led the Aces with 18 points and five assists. But he was limited to a personal
conference-low seven rebounds and was already sitting out along with Baguio and Tenorio inside the last five minutes of the game, when the Energy had raced to leads of 23 points, the last at 99-76.
Also a victim of Barako's tenacious gang-rebounding and vicious boxing out tactics was Sonny Thoss, who was held to just six points, his second lowest output in the tourney, as well as a personal season-low two rebounds.
Freeman was the anchor of it all.
Freeman scored seven points in each of the last two quarters but the rout was already being paved while he was taking a four-minute rest between the third and fourth.
In that span, Barako was limiting Alaska to just one try at the basket and was quicker at getting to loose balls. The Energy were also playing more cohesive and that showed in the way they managed to unleash one run after another.
Miller had five straight points and Freeman's substitute, Leo Najorda, scored on a follow up to make it a 78-63 count.
Najorda would go on to score eight more points in the final canto and joined hands with Freeman in stretching their lead to 97-74. (NC)
BARAKO 106 - Freeman 34, Tubid 20, Miller 20, Seigle 12, Najorda 10, Pennisi 3, Arboleda 3, Allado 2, Pena 2, Salvador 0.
ALASKA 85 - Parada 18, Baguio 14, Reyes 13, Baracael 12, Custodio 9, Tenorio 9, Thoss 6, Eman 2,
Gonzales 2, Salamat 0, Gelig 0.
Quarterscores: 25-24, 55-42, 78-63, 106-85