The NCAA view from the stands
If you haven’t been to a college basketball duel recently, you should visit the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) games.
You may have no connection at all with any of the schools but you will not be wanting in that old college try with players allowing their youthful passion to take over while their classmates and friends cheer themselves hoarse in the stands.
There’s no need to compare the quality of the games or the size of the audience with the UAAP. For one thing, the UAAP schools have larger student populations and communities compared to the NC schools. But the NC can pack it in and fill up the Smart Araneta Coliseum just as well during championships when legions of students and alumni come all out to support their alma maters. We’ve seen how San Beda has done that during its current title run and whoever plays the Red Lions for the title.
The compact Filoil Flying V Arena in San Juan is a comfortable venue that still allows you to find a seat with a good view of the court. There are no real bleachers, save perhaps for the upper tier where the bands and the cheering sections end up.
Like on this Saturday when I paid the NC a visit almost a decade after covering their 2002 season, there were still vacant seats in the lower sections. For this College of Saint Benilde-Lyceum of the Philippines encounter, I caught up with former Ginebra trainer Nino Sinco whose son Luis Antonio plays for the Blazers. National University coach Eric Altamirano was also there for son Anton, also a Blazer. I remember Anton as the small boy I coached in Chot Reyes’ camp in the 1990s and Eric and I laughed that so much time has flown by.
Even newly appointed San Miguel coach Leo Austria was in the audience and I teased him that he’s “recruiting” early for the pros.
The game does not fail to excite. Lyceum, a tall and lanky team, jumped out to the early lead at the end of the first quarter. But the Blazers, buoyed no doubt by their recent triumph over defending champion San Beda, unleashed a wicked half court trapping defense and spread out the floor well to catch up with the Pirates.
There’s even a magical Hail Mary shot scored by Blazer Paolo Taha with a little over five tenths of a second left in the first half. He received the inbound in the backcourt and heaved the ball from about 80 feet. The shot ripped the cords and pandemonium erupted in the Benilde gallery. Officials hurried to check the video but there’s no doubt it’s a legal basket and a three-pointer at that.
CSB nipped Lyceum’s fourth quarter rally to win its fourth straight, 86-77. This created an interesting logjam in the middle of the current standings with still a ton of games ahead, what with a 10-team field and two rounds of classification.
San Beda is still on top with six wins in seven starts and the Jerry Codiñera-coached Arellano University Chiefs are in second with a 5-2 card. But it’s the teams that are clumped together in the middle—Perpetual Help, Lyceum, Jose Rizal University, San Sebastian College and Benilde—that will make the race for the playoffs quite engaging.
It’s been like that in the NCAA for the past 90 seasons. There have been ups and downs, good seasons and forgettable ones. But the old college try is alive and well in its games.
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