Altas conquer Blazers, earn ‘welcome’ tiff with Knights
Most teams would dread having Letran as a Final Four.
Strike University of Perpetual Help System Dalta off that list.
“It’s a privilege to play against them. They’re the No. 1 team in the league with a spotless record,’’ said Perpetual coach Myk Saguiguit after the Altas removed the College of St. Benilde Blazers out of the way with a methodical 76-64 win on Wednesday to earn a place in the semifinals of Season 97 of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament against the talented Knights.
The Altas had far too many weapons the Blazers found hard to neutralize at the half-filled Filoil Flying V Arena as Perpetual never felt the absence of Kim Aurin—its most reliable scorer—at all.
John Abis and Jeff Egan gamely filled that void and together with Jielo Razon, Cris Pagaran and JP Boral, the Altas always found an answer every time the Blazers mounted an uprising.
As the fourth-ranked squad in the semifinals, the Altas will face the Knights on Sunday, but must clip the defending champions twice to progress to the Finals. The other semifinal pairing pits second-ranked Mapua and No. 3 San Beda with the Cardinals enjoying a twice-to-beat leverage.
Absent top gun
“It’s going to be a good experience and an opportunity for my players and for me. We will just savor it, enjoy the game and hopefully we get lucky in the end,’’ said Saguiguit.
Thriving in adverse situations, the Altas will be playing their fourth consecutive do-or-die tiff after surviving Emilio Aguinaldo College in the eliminations and staving off Arellano and the Blazers in the play-in stage.
“I never really thought about Letran until the outcome of this game,’’ said Saguiguit, the rookie coach who brought Perpetual back to the Final Four after the Altas made a semifinal run in 2018.
Aurin had to sit out the game after contracting smallpox and could miss their Final Four opener.
Despite being gifted with height and length, the Blazers were not able to capitalize after they got beaten off the boards, 54-40, by a smaller but aggressive Perpetual side.
JC Cullar led the Blazers with 18 points after firing three triples and Will Gozum added 13 points and 13 boards as they ended their season following a previous defeat against San Beda.
“I have never beaten St. Benilde in my entire collegiate career, so it really feels great defeating them,’’ said Razon, who will again play a pivotal role against the Knights.
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