Letran ‘different team now,’ says San Beda team managerBy Mark Giongco
MANILA, Philippines – San Beda swept Letran in the elimination round this season and in fact the Knights have not beaten the Red Lions in 14 tries dating back to 2007.
But for the two-time defending champion, wary of Letran’s resurgence, so what?
“The two wins we had against them, it doesn’t matter anymore, they’re a different team now,” said San Beda team manager Jude Roque, who spoke in behalf of head coach Ronnie Magsanoc at the PSA Forum in Shakey’s Malate Tuesday afternoon.
“I think it’s going to be an exciting series,” said Red Lions center Ola Adeogun. “[Their series against San Sebastian] showed that Letran is not the same team we beat before. (Kevin) Alas and (Mark) Cruz played big, they’re playing well together.”
Sure enough, the first time the two rivals met, Letran was still dealing with issues regarding the mysterious absence of its center Raymond Almazan while in their ensuing encounter, the Knights were just starting to find their groove.
San Beda rolled over Letran in their early meeting 65-43 before pulling off another win 68-62 in the second round.
But that was then, that was before the Knights went on an eight-game winning streak.
“Our turning point was when Raymond Almazan came back,” said Letran assistant coach Tino Pinat. “Nag-jell yung team pagdating ni Almazan (Our team jelled when Almazan returned) .”
Almazan’s mysterious absence caused his team to fall as far as eighth in the standings at 4-5 and at that point, Letran’s Final Four hopes appeared bleak.
“There were doubts but we didn’t let it bother us,” said explosive scorer Kevin Alas, whom Roque thinks as the best pure talent in the NCAA today.
“Yung faith namin hindi nawala (our faith did not go away),” added inside operator Jam Cortes, whose late free throws set the final tally in Letran’s 73-70 win over San Sebastian Monday night.
But the moment the six-foot-seven shot blocker returned, everything fell back into place for the Knights, who have won nine of their last 10 games.
On the other hand, San Beda may have cruised toward the top seed but the team also needed an extra push early and it was found through an unlikely source.
“What really started it was the big first win when we only had six players. ‘The super six’ game inspired us. it motivated us,” said Roque, recalling San Beda’s first game of the season where the team only had six bench players after an offseason incident caused the suspension of several of its key players.
The last time both sides met in the Finals was in 2007 where San Beda won in two games. Game 1 of their best-of-three championship series starts on Thursday, 6pm at the SM Mall-of-Asia Arena in Pasay City.