Lions dead set on securing 11th straight NCAA title berth
CAUGHT in an unfamiliar position of needing a victory to keep its streak of finals appearances alive, San Beda remains defiant.
Tantalizingly close to a first championship appearance in 12 years, the Perpetual Help Altas are undaunted.
With a date with the Arellano Chiefs in the best-of-three finals on the line, the Red Lions and Altas square off one last time this season in the 92nd NCAA basketball tournament at 4 p.m. Tuesday at Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City.
The Altas forced the do-or-die encounter with a thrilling 87-83 victory over the top seeded Lions at the start of the Final Four last Friday, the same day the Chiefs punched their ticket to the championship round at the expense of the Mapua Cardinals, 92-80.
“Fortunately for us, we worked hard for that twice-to-beat all season and we’ve got another chance to get into the finals,” said coach Jamike Jarin of San Beda, finalist in the past 10 seasons.
The Lions fell into an early hole in the series opener, but were still in the thick of the fight in crunch time, before Gab Dagangon, who finished with a game-high 27 points, scored the go-ahead basket with 19 seconds remaining.
“Of course, losing Game 1 was heartbreaking for us,” Jarin said. “But everybody is just tuned in right now. We’re focused and determined. We will put a little more heart into everything that we do.”
The Altas are bracing for a fiercer stand by the Lions, who struggled to stop the trio of Dagangon, Bright Akhuetie and Daryl Singontiko.
The 6-foot-8 Akhuetie matched Singontiko’s output of 15 points in his return from a team-imposed suspension.
Altas coach Jimwell Gican said getting into a good rhythm on offense will be the key.
“We won Game 1 because of our defense, but we have to improve our offense,” said Gican. “We have a great opportunity. We’re not about to let that slip away.” Cedelf P. Tupas
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