After a five-year wait, Red Lions reclaim old NCAA throne

After a five-year wait, Red Lions reclaim old NCAA throne

By: - Reporter / @junavINQ
/ 04:30 AM December 18, 2023

The Lions and their supporters celebrate on the flfloor after the fifinal buzzer. —PHOTOS BY AUGUST DELA CRUZ

The Lions and their supporters celebrate on the flfloor after the fifinal buzzer. —PHOTOS BY AUGUST DELA CRUZ

Jacob Cortez slowly went up the ladder, cut down the net and wore it around his neck as a decorative badge of honor.

Without any individual awards this season, the crafty point guard will value that piece of memento as a souvenir at the end of San Beda’s amazing championship run on Sunday in the NCAA Season 99 men’s basketball tournament.

“It doesn’t really matter (that I didn’t win any individual awards). What matters most is winning the championship,’’ said Cortez after the Red Lions completed the stunning reversal of the Mapua Cardinals, 76-66, to reclaim the crown they chased for five long years.


Making it doubly significant and memorable was the fact that the Red Lions were not even in the equation to win it all right from the start.

“We worked hard for this since January, and we went through a lot. But this team never gave up in the face of adversity,’’ said San Beda coach Yuri Escueta.

Pathetic in the first round, the Lions roared their way in the second round and found themselves with win-twice disadvantage against the Lyceum Pirates in the Final Four.

They threw the Pirates off the boat in two games, setting up the best-of-three title clash with the heavily favored Cardinals.“We are used to this kind of environment. We played at least six do-or-die games this season and that made this team stronger,’’ said Escueta, who was named coach of the year in his second season with the Lions.Two other heroes


Yukien Andrada and James Payosing showed what Escueta meant, delivering the killer blows that finished off the Cardinals in the final encounter.

Andrada made the Mapua heartbreak imminent in the final period, pouring most of his game-high 20 points in that pivotal stretch as the Lions completed the mission witnessed by a sea of 23,077 screaming fans at Smart Araneta Coliseum.


Running a consistent performance throughout the series, Payosing went to work one last time and ensured the victory—San Beda’s 23rd NCAA crown overall—with his last-minute heroics to seize the Finals Most Valuable Player (MVP) trophy.



“This Finals MVP trophy is just a bonus. Winning the championship is far more important,’’ said Payosing after edging Cortez, San Beda’s king lion, for the accolade.

Upon receiving his trophy unexpectedly, Payosing happily lifted Cortez, acknowledging his close friend’s season-long brilliance that brought them to where they are now.

Both Payosing and Cortez have a few more years of eligibility left to duplicate or even triplicate the feat.“Knowing that there’s no more tomorrow, we gave everything we had, stuck together, fought hard and got rewarded,’’ said Cortez, who never received any individual award but snared the ultimate prize after leading the Lions starting with their surge in the second round of the eliminations.

The sorry script for the Cardinals remained unaltered. Similar to their meltdown in the second game after gaining headway in the series opener, Mapua came out strong in the third quarter only to fumble in the crucial stretches.

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Rookie-MVP Clint Escamis collected most of the individual awards, but couldn’t pull through in the game that mattered most, scoring just 13 points on an atrocious 4-for-22 shooting, nearly duplicating his dismal performance from the field in Game 2.

TAGS: Basketball, NCAA, Sports

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