Lions remain confident despite making Final Four as No. 3 seeds
San Beda returned to a stage it is very accustomed to, but the Red Lions, NCAA powers for so long, will play in the Final Four having a much different feel to it.
Moments after his Lions clipped the St. Benilde Blazers, 63-57, on Sunday at Filoil Flying V Centre to be the No. 3 seeds, coach Boyet Fernandez expressed confidence in overturning a twice-to-win disadvantage against an enemy that turned them back in the eliminations.
“I believe we have a good chance. We have one week to prepare for them, hopefully we can build on this victory of ours,’’ said Fernandez, referring to the Mapua Cardinals, who will be on the opposite side of the court on Sunday armed with a win-once advantage over the fancied Lions.
San Beda has been in the Final Four for the last 17 years now and counting, but this is the first time that the Lions did not finish in the top two after taking an early loss to the Cardinals and then to defending champion Letran last week.
Mapua thus had the winner-over-the-other advantage at the end of classification and the Cards will have two chances to oust one of the favored teams to win the title.
Fernandez said he would rather have San Beda’s streak in the Final Four going and get back at the Cardinals, to gather momentum on the way to the title series.
James Kwekuteye keyed San Beda’s victory by firing eight of his game-high 17 points during a critical run, before suffering a left ankle injury on AJ Benson’s flagrant foul approaching the final minute.
Kwekuteye was carried off to the dugout where a team physician checked his condition. He didn’t return.
“It was really physical out there, but I’ll be okay, definitely okay,’’ said Kwekuteye.
The athletic 6-foot-1 wingman toyed with all defenders thrown at him, hitting a step-back jumper, wheezing past two defenders for a lay-in and sinking a pair of free throws that put the Lions safely ahead, 57-43, with just over three minutes left.
Sans Kwekuteye, Robi Nayve and Will Gozum pulled the Blazers within five. But free throws by JB Bahio, Jacob Cortez and Ralph Penuela sealed College of St. Benilde’s fate.
All is not lost, however, for the Blazers, who dropped to another KO match opposite University of Perpetual Help for the right to be No. 4 and earn a pairing with the red-hot Knights.
The Knights, who swept the elimination round, will also have a twice-to-beat advantage over the fourth-ranked semifinalist. INQ