The Alaska Aces, coming off a run that had them within a shot (and a couple of lucky breaks) from a championship, are looking to carry the momentum of that season over to this one. Like their previous championship run (in the 2013 Commissioner’s Cup), the Aces were able to make it all the way to the big dance because of their defense. They were able to do this because they defended the court, 94 feet by 50. They were pretty average in a lot of things — of the Four Factors, they only topped on one category (TOV%). But what they did well (full-court press), they did it better than anybody. There’s a reason why they were able to go back and win the game with deficits as big as 20 — because they could stop opponents from scoring in 3 or 4 minute bursts by forcing a lot of errand passes, live turnovers or quick, long shots that allows them to score quick on the break. They rank among the best in the league in Fastbreak Points Scored per game (11.6 points per game, 4th best), despite working with an average pace (88.9 possessions per 48 minutes, LA is 89.2). In all the other years that they haven’t been competitive, it’s usually because they didn’t defend well.

Year Conference DRTG Rank Finish
2012-13 Philippine Cup 101.3 8 (of 10) Lost to TNT in SF (4-2)
2013 Commissioner’s Cup 90.1 1 (of 10) Won Championship
2013 Governor’s Cup 104.3 7 (of 10) Lost to TNT in QF (1-1)
2013-14 Philippine Cup 99.8 8 (of 10) Lost to GIN in QF (1-1)
2014 Commissioner’s Cup 91.4 1 (of 10) Lost to SMC (1-2)
2014 Governor’s Cup 102.4 6 (of 10) Lost to ROS in SF (3-2)
2014-15 Philippine Cup 90.4 1 (of 12) Lost to SMB in Finals (4-3)

That one time they played great on defense in the elims and didn’t go deep into the playoffs, they played a streaking San Mig Coffee team that was peaking at just the right time and who had just won the past two conference championships.

To that end, they went out and signed 2-time Big South DPOY DJ Covington. (BTW, the days of basketball players being older than me are gone. BOO.)

The Aces wanted to bring 2013 Best Import Rob Dozier back in the fold. But Dozier decided to stay with his professional team in UAE, forcing the Aces to look elsewhere for a guy who will fit their system. But DJ Covington, who averaged about 1 steal and 4 blocks in 30 minutes of play in his last season with the Virginia Military Institute, will have a chip on his shoulder knowing he has to fill a bigger vaccum than most imports (Dozier averaged a 20/10/3 in his two conferences in the PBA, leading Alaska to a championship back in 2013).

His first match-up won’t be easy, as he’s going with a PBA “import veteran” in Marqus Blakely, who led the San Mig Coffee/Purefoods team to titles in his past tourneys here. His an athletic, high-energy, defensive havoc who seemingly creates plays out of nowhere.

As usual, Purefoods (and the “Popovian” ways of Tim Cone) will look to pace his players, especially after key injuries derailed their bid for a fifth straight championship.

One big key I will be watching out for is how Alaska defends the free throw line. One of the Triangle offense’ pet sets is the pinch post action, where a player flashes to the free throw line and attack from there. Purefoods’ bevy of big and capable post up guys (Yap, Simon, Devance, Pingris) makes that action a potent one. Lucky for Alaska, they have the big guards to defend those players. It will all come down to how good they’ll execute their half-court gameplan (and how well Purefoods will handle the pressure).

TIME: 7:00 PM