MANILA, Philippines -- The vast experience of their veteran players is the difference maker for San Miguel Beer, said head coach Leo Austria as they continue their bid to defend their All-Filipino Cup championship.
Since losing their first two games inside the PBA bubble in Clark, Pampanga, the Beermen have reeled off three consecutive victories. On Wednesday night, they overhauled a double-digit deficit to take down Meralco, 89-82, and improve their record to 4-2.
"I think the experience of the players is the one prevailing," said Austria. "They know how to win."
"In the last few minutes, when we were leading by five or six (points), we know na we have to take care of that lead, and they know how to do it," he added.
Veteran point guard Chris Ross got the run started when he beat the third-quarter buzzer for a triple that made it a nine-point game, 69-60. In the fourth period, Alex Cabagnot hit a flurry of shots that kept the Beermen in control -- including a booming triple with 2:47 to go that gave them an 86-80 lead.
Ross then iced the game with a dagger three-pointer with 20 seconds to play. He finished with 12 points, four assists, and five steals, all the while playing through pain.
"We know for so long what's the attitude of the player, the character of the player, especially Chris Ross. Even though, if he's hurt, he will play 100%," said Austria of his guard.
"He knows how to play. I think that's the thing that rubbed off to some of the players. Even though we're down by double figures, we're not losing our hope," he added.
Also earning praise from Austria was Arwind Santos, who finished with a double-double of 17 points and 11 rebounds while playing nearly 42 minutes in the game.
SMB head coach Leo Austria discusses the contributions of veteran forward Arwind Santos.
The forward assured his coach that he was ready to play long minutes. "He told me, 'Coach, tingnan natin kung sino ang kundisyon sa amin,' sabi niya. So, sabi ko masyadong mataas ang confidence nitong batang ito," said Austria.
"But I trusted him, because he knows how to pace (himself)," the coach added.
While their championship core continues to play at a high level, Austria is also getting solid contributions from newer Beermen. Moala Tautuaa has grown more comfortable in his role as their top option in the post, while players like Von Pessumal and Bambam Gamalinda are also stepping up.
And when the game heads into deep waters, they know they have veterans who can lead them to victory.
"We're so lucky in the fourth quarter, we're able to catch up," said Austria. "Because they know, this is winning time. They know how to win, and so we banked on the experience of the players."