NCAA: Shallow bench causing problems for Letran Knights

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Letran’s Rey Nambatac drives against the San Beda defense. Josh Albelda, ABS-CBN Sports

MANILA, Philippines – The good and the bad sides of the Colegio de San Juan de Letran Knights were in full display on Tuesday, when they faced off against archrivals San Beda College for the first time in the NCAA Season 93 men’s basketball tournament.

On one hand, their four veterans – Jerrick Balanza, Bong Quinto, JP Calvo, and star shooting guard Rey Nambatac – were virtually unstoppable, combining for 71 points on 26 of 55 shooting from the field.

However, the rest of the Knights who were fielded in – all nine of them – combined to score only three points. San Beda went on to win, 81-74, as Letran’s “Big Four” fizzled out in the fourth period after playing well early in the contest.

“Alam kasi ng kalaban na ano lang ‘yung bench namin, mababaw lang compared sa ibang teams,” said Nambatac, who had 18 points in the game but also committed seven turnovers. 

“So talagang madali sa kanila na i-scout kami, kasi alam nila kung sino lang ‘yung tutukan nila ng masyado,” he added.

[Our opponents know that our bench is not that deep compared to other teams, so it’s easy for them to scout us. They know who to defend.]

Letran actually had more bench points, 36-31, but that number is inflated because both Balanza (20 points) and Calvo (14 points) came off the pine. 

With their four key players knocking down shots, the Knights surged to a 34-27 lead at the half. However, they had no answer for San Beda in the third quarter, as the Red Lions outscored them, 28-16. By the time the fourth quarter rolled around, it was clear that Nambatac and company were exhausted.

“Siguro ‘yun din ang isa sa factor kung bakit pagdating sa dulo, nauubos kami. Kasi nga, wala na,” said Nambatac. “Kumbaga, kaming apat, wala na kaming materyales na talagang ilalabas, kasi pagod na.”

[That’s likely one of the factors for our struggles in the endgame – we run out of gas. Us four, we have nothing left to give in the end game because we’re so tired.]

Thus, Nambatac said it will be crucial for at least a couple of their bench players to step up so as to ease the burden off their veteran players.

“Hopefully, ‘yung bench namin, mayroong tatlo o apat na mag-step up, kasi mahirap sa sitwasyon namin na kaming apat, ‘yung mga go-to guys. Mahirap na maglalaro kami ng walang labasan,” he said.

[Hopefully, some players from our bench will step up, because this is a difficult situation for us. It’s hard to play without rest.]

Nambatac worries that if they continue to shoulder most of the load for Letran, they will not be able to sustain it for the rest of the season.

“Baka pagdating ng second round or mga crucial game, hindi na namin kayanin ng katawan namin, dahil pagod na nga. So kailangan namin ng bench talaga,” he said.

[I’m worried that by the time we get to the second round or during crucial games, our bodies might not hold up. So we really need our bench to step up for us.]

Against San Beda, Jeremiah Taladuah (two points) and Jeo Ambohot (one point) were the only other Knights to get on the board. However, outside of their Big Four, no Letran player made a field goal, instead going 0-for-12.

Nambatac is hoping that this trend won’t continue, especially as the loss to the Red Lions left Letran with a 1-3 win-loss record – tied with Mapua University for the worst mark in the league so far.

“Magandang bagay kung mayroon dalawa o tatlo na galing bench na magi-step up,” said Nambatac. “Kasi tulad noon, makakapag-pahinga kami ng three to four minutes, malaking bagay na sa amin ‘yun, babalik ‘yung resistensiya namin.”

“So ‘yun ang kailangan naming pag-usapan sa team namin, kung paano mag-step up ang mga bench warmer namin.”

[It will be good if two or three players from our bench will step up. If we can just get three to four minutes of rest, that’s already a big deal for us. This is something we need to discuss us a team, how our benchwarmers can step up.]

Letran returns to action on August 1 against Arellano University.

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