MANILA, Philippines—Much like plenty of PBA teams, Vietnam simply had no answer for June Mar Fajardo when he got going during their Group A game in the 30th Southeast Asian Games at Mall of Asia Arena on Friday night.
Fajardo outmuscled the smaller Vietnamese frontliners for a team-high 23 points, making 9 of his 14 attempts from the field. He also grabbed 12 rebounds while playing just 15 minutes and 16 seconds in a 110-69 rout by Gilas Pilipinas.
It was a terrific performance for the five-time PBA Most Valuable Player, who is seeking his first gold medal in the SEA Games.
"We knew they didn't have anybody to match up to him," Gilas coach Tim Cone said of Fajardo. "So he's a five-time MVP, and there's a reason why he's a five-time MVP, and he showed that tonight."
Fajardo, who also displayed his passing skills with a nifty dime to Troy Rosario in the third frame, gave full credit to his teammates and coaches for the way they prepared against Vietnam.
The Philippines opened the SEA Games with a 110-58 demolition of Singapore last Wednesday, and after a slow start, the hosts registered a similarly comfortable win over a tougher Vietnam team.
"Lagi naman nire-remind ni coach na kailangan aggressive kami. Aggressive kami sa game na ito kasi tinambakan nila kalaban nila sa first and second game nila," said Fajardo.
"So, sabi ni coach, ito 'yung isa sa malakas na team dito, ni-remind kami na 'wag maging kampante."
For the big man, the key to victory wasn't his own sensational performance, but the squad's focus on the defensive end. Gilas limited Vietnam to just 29.7% shooting from the field, including just 7 of 38 from beyond the arc. Chris Dierker, Vietnam's ace, scored 28 points but shot just 9-of-23 from the field and was made to earn his points at the free throw line.
"Noong una, nakakuha sila ng run, so ni-remind kami na dapat priority 'yung depensa," said Fajardo. "Nag-focus kami sa depensa and 'pag naka-stop, du'n kami makakakuha ng opensa."
Fajardo scored 12 of his 23 points in the third quarter, helping the Philippines build an 80-57 lead. He spent the fourth quarter watching from the bench as Greg Slaughter and Vic Manuel had their turn in overwhelming Vietnam inside the paint.
The win propelled Gilas Pilipinas to the semifinals, and a step closer towards Fajardo's first gold medal in the SEA Games.
"Gusto ko makuha itong SEA Games kasi wala pa akong gold sa SEA Games," the San Miguel slotman said.
" 'Yung Grand Slam naman, di maiiwasan 'yun, nasaktan tayo du'n. Pero at least may chance pa naman ako. May next year pa naman kami."
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