MAGNOLIA Ang Pambansang Manok taught Blackwater a neat lesson on how to find the winning line and get amply rewarded in the process Tuesday.
The only time Magnolia and Victolero missed out was in the last mid-season Commissioner's Cup, when they wound up seventh and a return stint served as additional motivation which served them in good stead against a gritty Blackwater crew.
With their equally determined and more experienced crew getting the job done, the Hotshots overcame the Elite, 103-99, to realize a return trip to the Final Four of the PBA Governors Cup at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Romeo Travis came up with his first PBA triple-double of 18 points, 20 rebounds and 12 assists and joined hands with his local teammates in sustaining Magnolia's fightback from an 84-91 deficit, going to the last 6:11 of play.
Rafi Reavis, Justin Melton, Ian Sangalang, Mark Barroca and Paul Lee also made key contributions in the surge as the fourth-ranked Hotshots did not let their win-once advantage over the fifth-seeded Elite go to waste.
"It's nice to be back in the semis," said Magnolia coach Chito Victolero, who started handling the team only before last season started and now has steered it to a fifth Final Four in six conferences.
"I told the players before this game to expect a grinding game, that it's not going to be an easy game because we know Blackwater has proved a lot this conference and it would not go out without one big fight," related Victolero.
The Elite did put up one whale of a fight, not letting an early 13-point deficit dampen their hopes of trying to force a deciding game and from there realize a first-ever semis appearance.
Blackwater, however, simply could not keep up and faded in the form of a 2-for-9 clip from the field and two turnovers in the endgame.
Punctuating Elite's collapse were bad misses by Walker and Nards Pinto from beyond the arc, something not expected from the latter who went into the game leading all three-point shooters with a 67 percent clip but wound up making just one of six heaves from deep.
Still, the Elite managed to threaten when Paul Zamar boomed in a trey to bring them within 99-100, 35 seconds to go.
Charities by Travis and Lee, however, sealed the outcome and Magnolia's best-of-five date with whichever wins in the other quarterfinals pairing pitting eliminations topnotcher Ginebra and eighth-ranked NLEX.
Lee finished with a game-high 22 points and 12 rebounds while Sangalang, who went scoreless in a loss to Barangay Ginebra in Magnolia's last time out, redeemed himself big-time with 18 points on top of eight rebounds.
Despite going 5-for-11 from the field, including 2-for-8 from deep, Walker still wound up with 18 points, eight rebounds and five dimes while JP Erram, Zamar, Allein Maliksi and Mac Belo chipped in at least 11 points each. (NC)
Magnolia 103 - Lee 22, Travis 18, Sangalang 18, Simon 16, Barroca 9, Melton 8, Brondial 4, Reavis 3, Dela Rosa 3, Jalalon 2.
Blackwater 99 - Walker 18, Erram 15, Zamar 13, Maliksi 12, Belo 11, Digregorio 8, Pinto 7, Sumang 7, Al-Hussaini 4, Javier 4, Jose 0.
Quarters: 32-22, 55-47, 76-78, 103-99.