Jacob Cortez says Red Lions have figured out ‘what to do’ in NCAA Finals quest
Playing with a cool and calm demeanor, Jacob Cortez is undeniably a chip off the old block.
But even as he tries to prove that he is also his own man, he understands the value of being a part of a cohesive unit.
“What’s really important is our focus as a team,” Cortez said after San Beda’s 89-68 semifinal rout of No. 2 seed Lyceum forced the Pirates to use their twice-to-beat card in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.
That focus will come in handy for the Red Lions in a do-or-die encounter at 3 p.m. on Friday because Cortez is aware that Lyceum is “gonna make adjustments” after that stinging beatdown in their Final Four clash.
With his dad, the original “Cool Cat” Mike Cortez, watching at the sidelines, the young Red Lion took the keys of the San Beda offense and led the team to a fifth straight victory.
“Jacob knows how to play, so I just let him be. I trust him on that, his teammates trust him that he’s going to make the right decisions (on the court),’’ said San Beda coach Yuri Escueta.
The streaking Lions have the Pirates right where they want—backed into a corner after losing in blowouts in back-to-back matches. And they know exactly what they need to do to deliver the knockout blow.
“We learned from our slow start in the second round and gained a lot of experience. Ever since that Mapua loss, we told ourselves to stay composed, relaxed and just listen to the coaches,’’ said Cortez. “Now, we really know what to do.’’
Both teams split the elimination phase with the Pirates finding themselves hanging by a thread before pulling off a close shave in the first round. The Red Lions retaliated and crushed Lyceum without mercy in their succeeding meeting.
Leaning on the athletic Enoch Valdez, John Barba and burly Shawn Umali, the Pirates are dependent on their inside game as the top offensive squad in the tournament.
The Red Lions managed to seal off Lyceum’s comfort zone, forcing the Pirates to earn a living from the outside—without luck.