Knights celebrate perfect season before targeting third straight NCAA crown
Letran’s perfect season ended with the NCAA Season 97 men’s basketball trophy in its arms, and it’s not really wishful thinking if the Knights stretch their imagination further by aiming for another title within the year.
With Rookie-Most Valuable Player (MVP) Rhenz Abando still on board, the Knights can train their sights on a third consecutive championship that could happen several months from now after finishing off the Mapua Cardinals, 75-65, to sweep their best-of-three title series on Sunday at FilOil Flying V Centre.
Season 98 isn’t far off with September as the target schedule for its opening.
Except for pro-bound Jeo Ambohot, Allen Mina and Christian Fajarito, Letran’s deadly core remains intact, making the Knights the favorites for another title run.
“Right now, I’m very happy that I’ve finally become a champion,’’ said Abando, who reached his dream after a failed attempt to secure a collegiate trophy with another school in the rival UAAP.
Abando dusted off the sprained left ankle he sustained in Game 1, playing like nothing happened then, scoring 14 points and pulling down 12 rebounds just a few hours after carting off with the MVP and Rookie of the Year awards plus a Mythical Five selection.
“I didn’t join the [PBA] draft because I want to play for one more year with Letran and hopefully win another championship,’’ added Abando.
Ambohot’s skill and patience were likewise in full display, punctuating his collegiate career with a Finals MVP plum that was truly deserved. He finished with 13 points and nine rebounds, most of his points around the rim, especially in the fourth that kept the Cardinals at a distance.
Successfully defending their crown, the Knights pocketed their 19th title overall which was highlighted by a 12-game sweep.
“Mission accomplished. It was a difficult series, but we were able to pull through in the end,’’ said Letran coach Bonnie Tan, whose Knights replicated the back-to-back crowns Letran won during the 1998 and 1999 season.
Trailing by double-digits almost throughout, Mapua was a picture of disappointment on both ends, their main weapon from the outside deserting the Cardinals in the most crucial match of the season.
The Cardinals, the most accurate squad on the perimeter and from three-point range, fell to a 21-point hole early in the third and came within five after two triples by Arvin Gamboa and Paolo Hernandez.
Abando steadied the Knights by scoring six of their last seven points that ended the Cardinals’ exhilarating comeback.
As confetti rained on the floor to the delight of the Letran faithful, the Cardinals watched on the other end, dejected, accepting their fate and the runner-up trophy that went with it.
But the Cardinals, with Hernandez, Gamboa, Brian Lacap, Adrian Nocum and Warren Bonifacio expecting to play again in the coming season, could once more offer a stiff challenge. INQ
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