Lions, Knights clash for all marbles today
ONE of the longest seasons in NCAA basketball history will boil down to one final game.
Close to five months after the season started, San Beda and Letran—the most successful teams in the league—square off one last time today for the championship of the league’s 89th season at Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City.
Tipoff is at 2:30 p.m. with odds just about even between two fierce rivals that split all four games in the tournament this season.
San Beda took Monday’s Game 1, 80-68, before Letran bounced back to take Game 2, 79-74, on Thursday and forge a winner-take-all encounter.
For the Red Lions, it’s the opportunity to further cement their status as the top team in the league, having already won 17 championships, including seven in the last eight years.
For the Knights, it’s a chance to match San Beda’s title haul and return to the top of the league for the first time since 2005.
“It’s anybody’s ballgame now,” said Letran coach Caloy Garcia. “Whoever comes out with the right frame of mind will have a good chance of winning the game.”
“We have to keep the same mind-set (from Game 2) and bring our fighting heart,” said Letran’s pint-sized point guard Mark Cruz, who has been magnificent in the series, averaging 18.5 points despite a thumb injury.
The Knights need not go too far to remind themselves of how tough it is to win Game 3. They buckled under pressure in the same game last season, losing 39-67, in one of the most lopsided title clinchers in league history.
“The loss (in Game 3) has haunted us for a year now,” said Letran center Raymond Almazan, the reigning league MVP. “We don’t want it to happen again.”
The Knights feel they have momentum on their side after a 79-74 win in Game 2 last Thursday.
But San Beda coach Boyet Fernandez was quick to quell any notions that defeat has put a dent on the Lions’ confidence.
“They (Letran) still have to beat us one more time and I believe my boys won’t allow that (to happen),” said Fernandez.
With stars like Almazan and Ola Adeogun matching each other’s outputs, bench production has been key in the series so far with Ivan Ludovice delivering a clutch performance to lift the Lions in Game 1, before McJour Luib came up with his best outing of the season to help the Knights equalize.
The Lions were actually in control after a sizzling finish to the first half of Game 2, before the Knights turned their game up a notch in the third period.
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