League leaders, beware the winless teamBy Sev Sarmenta
Philippine Daily Inquirer
THE WORST any squad any top team could face is the one that hasn’t won anything in a tournament so far.
The Letran Knights got reacquainted with this fact when they fell 67-77 to the hungry Arellano University Chiefs in the NCAA last Saturday.
The Chiefs were unlucky in their first three games, losing to San Beda’s gutsy six (who were the only players available for the Lions that day because of the suspensions brought about by the unfortunate incident between the Lions and the San Sebastian volleyball players), then to Emilio Aguinaldo College Generals and to the Jose Rizal Heavy Bombers.
Letran was even at 1-1, having lost last against Perpetual Help, 64-69. There was a definite eagerness on the part of the Knights to get back to winning to stay in step with early leaders JRU, San Beda, Perpetual Help and San Sebastian.
But the day did not belong to the gallant Knights, who fell behind by as much as 14 points in the third quarter. The huge effort of Kevin Alas, who scored 16 of his 22 points in the second half, whittled down the lead to two with three minutes remaining.
The Chiefs bucked 26 turnovers to only 13 by the Knights but got relief baskets from Fil-Canadian James Forrester and Vergel Zulueta to outscore the Knights, 9-3, in the stretch to pocket their first win.
Letran had its hands full juggling its lineup with the absence of Raymond Almazan due to a fever and the ejections of Jam Cortes and Jonathan Belorio who were caught dishing out flagrant fouls in the heat of the battle.
It won’t help Letran in its next game against College of St. Benilde that the two frontliners will be out on suspensions because of their actions against the Chiefs.
Arellano coach Koy Banal has always been known for his emphasis on defense and this was clearly seen in the traps that the Chiefs laid out. They were unable to contain, though, the wily Alas, who has clearly matured and makes reliable decisions on the floor. But the Chiefs handcuffed the other Knights whose lances couldn’t deliver in the last three minutes.
Arellano’s rugged determination reminds one of the PCU team of Junel Baculi a few years ago that came within a basket of winning the NCAA title. Back then, PCU had the likes of Jason Castro, Gabby Espinas and Beau Belga. Who knows that with a few more wins and breaks, the Chiefs might shape up to be a surprise contender in the mold of a PCU. If not this season, there’s always next year.
It’s unfortunate that such a thriller of a game did not merit the attention of a larger crowd that day at the Filoil Flying V Arena. The classification phase—Oh well, we keep calling it the “eliminations” in this country anyway—is perhaps the most entertaining and engaging because this is where leading teams don’t want to lose to the lesser lights while the less fancied teams want to score upsets every time.
Playoffs and championship games have their built-in excitement but the road to those phases begins in the classification. This makes for great basketball where the underrated teams can catch the leaders napping or suffering from a very bad day.
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