Rhenz Abando uncertain as Letran goes for NCAA title clincher
Letran ran into an opposition armed with a strong desire to prove itself worthy of the championship while Mapua rode that crest of confidence only to see its hopes dashed in the end.
Looking to lay claim on the NCAA Season 97 men’s basketball crown, the Letran Knights will bring the lessons of that super tight win against the Mapua Cardinals in Game 2 of their title series on Sunday.
“We expect another difficult game against them (Cardinals). We expect the physicality because this is the championship,’’ said Letran coach Bonnie Tan.
“But this is the game that we have been waiting for. Let’s not waste all our sacrifices the past two months,’’ added Tan.
The Knights exuded the heart of a champion in that narrow 68-63 series-opening victory with PBA-bound Jeo Ambohot and veterans Brent Paraiso, King Caralipio, Allen Mina and Fran Yu using their veteran smarts that moved them to the cusp of holding a second consecutive NCAA trophy.
Ahead for majority of the match, the Cardinals saw their advantage melt only in the last 45 seconds when Ambohot’s floater finally gave the Knights the lead.
Mapua ultimately shot itself in the foot the rest of the way.
The Knights remain unbeaten after sweeping the nine-game eliminations, booting out the Perpetual Altas in the Final Four and taking the first meeting of the best-of-three title encounter.
“We hardly think about the possible sweep and the enemy that we will face. We just treat each game as a championship game,’’ said Tan.
The status of Rhenz Abando, the rookie-Most Valuable Player awardee of the season, remains uncertain after he hurt his left ankle following a bad fall midway in the third quarter.
Abando will certainly be in the spotlight though as he receives his two major individual trophies before the match. Also receiving their trophies are the members of the Mythical Five selection: Abando, Ambohot, Arellano bigman Justin Arana, power forward JM Calma of San Sebastian and St. Benilde’s Will Gozum.
“If your top player is injured, it’s a concern for any team. But it’s a challenge for the other players to step up in case he (Abando) won’t be able to play,’’ said Tan.
The Cardinals relied heavily on their outside shooting in Game 1, the same weapon of choice they intend to use, with the firing responsibility falling on the shoulders of Paolo Hernandez, Brian Lacap, Adrian Nocum, Toby Agustin and Jeric Pido.
“We have to bounce back and force another game. To do that, we have to play solid defense for 40 minutes,’’ said Mapua coach Randy Alcantara, who guided the Cardinals back to the Finals for the first time in 31 years.
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