San Beda Red Lions, San Sebastian Stags start NCAA title series
MANILA, Philippines—A perfect elimination round may have eluded them, but the San Beda Red Lions feel adversities have prepared them for the most important stretch of their campaign.
Battle-weary yet pumped up, the Lions face the San Sebastian Stags seeking payback at the start of their best-of-three series for the 87th NCAA men’s basketball crown Monday at 4 p.m. at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
The Lions went unbeaten last season, capping their conquest with a two-game sweep of the Stags.
But with several key players missing most of this season because of injuries, the Lions needed to draw the best from the likes of Dave Marcelo, Garvo Lanete and Rome Dela Rosa to secure top spot at the end of the elimination round with a 17-2 mark.
“We’ve wanted to be in the finals ever since we won last year,” said San Beda coach Frankie Lim, stressing that the hunger for winning more titles hasn’t faded a bit for his squad.
“We’ve worked very hard to get to this point. My boys are in pretty good shape,” said Lim, whose squad ousted Jose Rizal U in the Final Four.
Standing in the Lions’ way are the Stags, a team searching for a second title in three years.
The Stags boast the top individual players in the league in Calvin Abueva, Ian Sangalang and Ronald Pascual, but after a 15-0 start, they’ve lost three of their last five games.
But they delivered when it mattered, winning the do-or-die duel against the Letran Knights, 63-56, last Wednesday.
Though he’s overwhelmed in reaching the finals in only his rookie year as coach, San Sebastian mentor Topex Robinson said his squad is far from contented at just challenging the Lions.
“It’s a humbling experience just to be in the finals, but it’s not going to be enough for us just being here,” said Robinson, a hard-nosed guard during his playing years.
With his double-double averages during the season, Abueva is expected to carry the load for the Stags, but Robinson has been impressed by the production of late by his bench.
“The team is not just about one player or three players (Pascual, Abueva and Sangalang),” said the youthful coach.
San Sebastian drew first blood in the season series against San Beda, which took the next two games en route to securing the top spot at the end of the elimination round.
But for Lim, those games count for nothing now.
“Nothing else matters in the finals. You just have to fight for every possession,” he said.
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