Vic Manuel well and truly back as San Miguel Beermen see off Converge FiberXers in PBA Governors' Cup quarterfinals

Vic Manuel did not miss a single shot on his way to a 20-point display that helped San Miguel Beermen see off Converge FiberXers in the 2023 PBA Governors' Cup quarterfinals on Sunday. PBA Media Bureau

The second-seeded San Miguel Beermen booked the first semifinal seat of the 2023 PBA Governors' Cup with a clinical 121-105 romp over seventh seed Converge FiberXers Sunday.

After trailing by one point at halftime, the Beermen pulled away in the third quarter to move into the last four where they will face Barangay Ginebra.

Here, we look at three thoughts on the game and what lies ahead.

Vic Manuel is back

After missing four of SMB's first five games due to a leg injury and averaging just 7.2 points in the next five, it appears the 'Muscle Man' is finally back.

Manuel didn't miss a single shot from the field (9-for-9) or the line (2-for-2) to finish with 20 points, just two days after hitting 23 in the Beermen's big win over Rain or Shine Elasto Painters.

"Vic went crazy," SMB import Cameron Clark said. "9 for 9. Was that the record? We're gonna need that from Vic. He's a guy who can score. We're gonna rely on him more. It's great for us."

"My teammates were looking for me," Manuel said in Tagalog of his perfect shooting night. "All my shots were open. It's just confidence. As long as the shots are falling, just take it.

Manuel was so good that Beermen coach Jorge Gallent was jokingly asked if he was simply saving his prized forward for the playoffs.

"No, he was really hurt," Gallent replied. "Would you keep a talent like this (hidden)? Hell, no. And you know what's good about Vic? He's doing extra work on his therapy."

Manuel confirmed he is still doing therapy on his leg, but that all is good.

"I just continue with the strengthening I'm doing for my injury," he said. "The results have been good. I can play better now. The confidence that coach Jorge has given me is huge."

Quo vadis, Converge?

For the second straight conference, the FiberXers got off to a hot start only to sputter in the homestretch and bow out in the quarterfinals.

In the Governors' Cup, the team raced to a 4-0 start, then lost five of their last seven elimination-round games to finish in seventh place.

Things came to a head in their last elimination-round game when import Jamaal Franklin took just five shots and finished with four points in a crucial loss to Barangay Ginebra. Franklin was sent home and replaced by New Zealander Tom Vodanovich, who scored 39 points but just couldn't carry Converge to a win.

With their season officially over, coach Aldin Ayo said the FiberXers will take a short break and plunge back to work.

"(We'll have a) one week break, then we're going to resume," Ayo said. "And then another week break because of Holy Week. After that we're going to resume even though it's still a long way and we still don't know the schedule. We want to work on the locals with our developmental program."

Ayo feels the team needs more big men and possibly a point guard, even as he addressed rumors that he might be on the way out, adding: "I signed a multi-year contract. Our objective is to develop these players.

"I know that my career's history is moving from one team to another, but I think I found a team, management that's good. I'm planning to settle down here and work with them."

The team's top priority for the offseason is to sign guard Maverick Ahanmisi, who had a banner season, to a contract extension. Talks are still ongoing.

"I don't know yet, honestly," Ahanmisi said when asked about his future with the team. "I leave that to my agent and we shall see. It's in the works already, but I don't know until I sit down and talk to my agent."

A tale of two imports

Vodanovich was impressive in his lone PBA game, showing offensive versatility and range with six 3-point shots.

Ayo revealed that the New Zealander had been on his wishlist even for the Commissioner's Cup and wished that they could have signed him up earlier.

"We got the import that we wanted but it was too late," Ayo said before taking a subtle dig at Franklin. "It turns out it's possible to get an import who can score 39 points who doesn't always have the ball. It's possible to get an import who will set screens, stay on the weak side, and with a character that never gives up. But it was too late."

Gallent said they got game film of Vodanovich and used that as basis to figure out how to defend him. It initially didn't work, as the import already had 23 points by halftime.

"We just watched film when he played about a month ago," Gallent said. "That's the only basis that we could scout him. We knew coming into this game he was very aggressive and we knew he was a good 3-point shooter.

"We prepared for that defensively. We just switched, we just challenged his 3-point shooting. And once we challenged that in the second half, we were good."

Ayo is hopeful Vodanovich will come back, stating: "We're planning to make him our resident import. The way he plays, he's like a probinsiyano. No air, he just plays. And he's fundamentally sound."

Vodanovich, though, wouldn't commit to anything just yet, as he said: "I'm not sure yet. Right now I'm going back home to my family, enjoy a couple of days off before my next season back home in New Zealand and then future will unfold as it goes."

Clark, meanwhile, finds himself in the semifinals for the second straight season, having reached this far last year with the NELX Road Warriors. He hopes to go further this time.

"We're just jelling at the right time," he said. "Playing hard, trying to find my teammates, find out what they're good at. Expose what they can do and me just trying to fit in."

"Cam has always been great," Gallent said. "You know what's the best part about Cam? He's improving every game which is good for us."