Coach Vanguardia insists Wright is not what’s wrong with Phoenix

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Matthew Wright attempts a shot for Phoenix against NLEX. Richard Esguerra, ABS-CBN Sports

MANILA, Philippines – By all accounts, the Phoenix Fuel Masters should be a better team with Matthew Wright around.

Wright has been quite impressive as a rookie, averaging 16.7 points after the first two conferences, shooting 34.7% from beyond the arc. He is also norming 6.5 rebounds, 4.1 assists, and 1.2 steals per game heading into the Governors’ Cup.

Yet his presence on the court has not translated to success for the Fuel Masters – at least, not in the season-ending Govenors’ Cup. Phoenix opened the conference with two straight wins, while Wright was with Gilas Pilipinas in the Jones Cup in Taiwan. 

But since his return, they have lost back-to-back games: a 100-91 result to GlobalPort where Wright shot 0-of-6 from the field; and a 95-91 defeat to NLEX that saw Wright score 17 points, only for the Fuel Masters to squander a 10-point lead in the final quarter.

“We just lost,” Wright said afterward. “Some poor executions down the stretch, that’s why we lost.”

His personal bounce-back performance after shooting poorly against GlobalPort was of no comfort to Wright. “It doesn’t matter. We lost the game… I just want to win the game,” he said. “It’s frustrating when your team is losing.”

Wright has no explanation for his team’s two-game skid while he is with them, but his coach, Ariel Vanguardia, was quick to come to the rookie guard’s defense.

“Coincidence lang ‘yan,” said Vanguardia. “We’re not blaming anyone.”

“We win as a team, we lose as a team,” the coach stressed. “We didn’t have the breaks today.”

Rather than wondering why Wright was unable to lead the Fuel Masters to victory, Vanguardia instead lamented Phoenix’s team-wide woes on defense.

“We couldn’t finish the job. We were already leading by 10 with under nine minutes (left). Our defense didn’t hold up in the fourth quarter, especially on (Carlo) Lastimosa,” he pointed out.

Lastimosa scored 11 of his 14 points in the final frame, anchoring the crucial 13-2 run midway through the quarter that allowed NLEX to erase Phoenix’s 10-point advantage.

“Sayang ‘yung opportunity,” said Vanguardia. “It could be the opportunity for us to move up, pero ‘di pa din namin nakuha. We know we got outworked, especially in the fourth quarter.”

“Everybody should be accountable for it,” he stressed. “We should learn to close out games.”

Wright is expected to play at least one more game with Phoenix before returning to fulfill his duties with the national team. He is part of the 12-man roster that will represent the Philippines in FIBA Asia Cup in Lebanon starting on August 8.

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