Red Lions, Knights start NCAA title seriesBy Cedelf P. Tupas
Philippine Daily Inquirer
MANILA, Philippines — Excellent all-season long, San Beda faces a Letran team peaking at the right time Thursday at the start of their best-of-three finals series for the 88th NCAA basketball title at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Tied in the NCAA record books with 16 seniors championships, the Lions and Knights hope to go one over the other in a series that has all the ingredients of a classic.
San Beda is gunning for a third straight title and sixth in seven years, while Letran will try to end a seven-year wait for a crown. The two squads last met in the finals in 2007 when the Lions swept the Knights in two games.
The Lions have actually beaten the Knights 14 straight times, including twice in the elimination round this season.
But Letran has been a far different team since its 62-68 loss to San Beda last Sept. 1, going on a nine-game winning streak capped by the stunning upset of San Sebastian in the Final Four.
Both squads feel that adversities early in the season have prepared them for the most important stretch of their campaign.
“Right from the start, the mission was really to go back to the top, but we encountered so many obstacles,” said San Beda rookie coach Ronnie Magsanoc. “We just have to work hard and pray harder (in the finals).”
The road back to the finals has been bumpy for the Lions, who started the season with only six players after the rest of the team was slapped with a suspension because of an off-court incident last season.
But San Beda figured out a way to overcome adversities, clinching the top seed, before bundling out Perpetual Help, 56-52, in the Final Four.
Letran’s first round campaign was also far from ideal with the Knights dropping five of their first nine games and missing center Raymond Almazan, who returned later to help turn the team’s fortunes around.
“Team effort brought us to the finals and it’s not going to change if we want to win the title,” said Letran coach Louie Alas.
“We worked hard to be in the finals and you can only hope that you continue playing well,” said Kevin Alas, the coach’s son, who is also the Knights’ leading scorer.
The Lions have the edge in championship experience with their core playing in the finals the past four seasons.
But the Knights have a solid unit playing inspired basketball the past six weeks led by senior Jam Cortes and Almazan, who will be tasked to guard San Beda center Ola Adeogun.
The Nigerian center played his best game for the Lions against the Altas, coming away with 23 points and 14 boards.