One final crown duel for Knight, Lions today
A FINALS series that has lived up to all the hype and fanfare boils down to one last game.
San Beda, a 19-time champion looking to extend its decade of dominance, and Letran, an owner of 16 crowns that is on a 10-year title drought, battles it out for the NCAA Season 91 title today before an expected sellout crowd at Mall of Asia Arena.
Game time is at 4 p.m. with the Red Lions aiming to seal a sixth straight title and a ninth crown in 10 years.
Game 1 turned out to be an epic shootout won by the Knights, 94-90, but the Lions evened the series with a gutsy defensive stand to shut down their rivals in the final period of Game 2 for an equally thrilling 68-61 victory before a crowd of 17,588 last Tuesday.
“It doesn’t get any better than this,” said San Beda coach Jamike Jarin. “It’s going to be a classic game. We’ve been treated to a magnificent series.”
Jarin hopes his charges will be ready to embrace the moment and rise to the challenge of a winner-take-all game.
“Every basketball player should experience a rubber match,” he said. “This is historic. Whether you win or lose, you’re part of history, part of something really big.”
Recent history favors the Lions, who overpowered the Knights in a rubber match in the 2012 finals where Ola Adeogun, Art Dela Cruz and Baser Amer played key roles for San Beda. San Beda swept Letran in the finals a year later.
But the Knights have been fueled by past heartaches this season and the misstep in Game 2 has only left Letran more determined than ever.
“I’m very optimistic going into Game 3,” said Letran coach Aldin Ayo. “There’s no tomorrow. We will do whatever it takes (to win).”
The Lions tightened up defensively late to snatch Game 2, but the Knights also hurt their chances by missing eight free throws in the last five minutes with Rey Nambatac typifying their struggles, missing all of his six foul shots and ending up scoreless for the first time this season.
Jarin said they still need to address their problems in taking care of the ball in the face of Letran’s pressure defense. The Lions committed 29 turnovers in Game 1 and 32 in Game 2.
The Knights can take encouragement at the fact that they were able to keep the game close despite their poor shooting in Game 2. Kevin Racal, who shot 28 points in Game 1, didn’t even break double figures in the second game.