Red Lions wrest 18th NCAA title
RELENTLESS and unwavering, San Beda continued its dominance of the NCAA after surviving a courageous stand from Letran.
Dragged into another dogfight by the Knights, the Lions showed the resolve that has proven to be the trademark of their reign in pulling off a 60-56 thriller in a winner-take-all Game 3 yesterday for the title in the league’s 89th season before a huge crowd at Mall of Asia Arena.
Art dela Cruz, named Finals MVP, sizzled with 20 points and 16 rebounds, while the rest of the Lions flexed their muscles on the defensive end in the second half to punctuate their successful quest for a fourth straight title.
The victory also jacked up the Lions’ record title haul to 18, two more than the Knights.
Gathering steam as the season went on, the Lions still needed to deliver one strong finish for a seventh title in the last eight years.
The Lions fought back from a six-point deficit at halftime with a superb third quarter before grinding it out in a nip-and-tuck final period.
Ola Adeogun finished with 17 points and grabbed 13 boards, but it was his defense that spelled the difference in a pulsating final minute. Adeogun met Kevin Racal in mid-air and swatted away a potential game-tying layup with 8.6 seconds left.
Racal nearly made amends by taking the ball away from Dela Cruz in the next inbound play, but Ivan Ludovice recovered the ball to Dela Cruz forcing the Knights to foul.
As Adeogun nailed two cushion free throws, graduating Lion Rome dela Rosa wept unabashedly on the other side of the floor, releasing all the emotion after a titanic struggle against a worthy foe.
“I’m so proud of my players because they just didn’t give up,” said San Beda coach Boyet Fernandez, who became the third Lions coach in as many years to steer the Mendiola-based team to the title.
League Most Valuable Player Raymond Almazan fired 14 points.
SAN BEDA 60—Dela Cruz 20, Adeogun 17, Amer 6, Dela Rosa 6, Pascual 4, Abarcar 2, A. Semerad 2, Ludovice 2, Sara 1, D. Semerad 0.
LETRAN 56—Almazan 14, Cruz 10, Nambatac 10, Ruaya 9, Racal 7, Belorio 4, Luib 2, Castro 0, Po 0, Tambeling 0, Buenaflor 0, Gabawan 0.
Quarters: 14-7, 24-30, 45-43, 60-56