By Jerome Lagunzad
Games Today (Mall of Asia Arena)
1 p.m. — San Beda vs La Salle-Greenhills (Jrs)
(Knockout match, Final Four round)
3:30 p.m. — San Beda vs San Sebastian (Srs)
(Knockout match, step-ladder semifinals)
Defending champion San Beda and host San Sebastian College renew their storied rivalry in a knockout battle today at the Mall of Asia Arena, with the winner earning the right to face unflappable Lyceum in a best-of-three finals for the 93rd NCAA seniors basketball crown.
The Red Lions will come in to the 3:30 p.m. encounter with fresher legs following a 19-day break, but they are expected to have their hands full against a dangerous Golden Stags side riding the momentum of two convincing victories—both in do-or-die scenarios.
Although they figured in countless finals battles before, this will be the first time that San Beda and San Sebastian, two of the most winningest schools in league history, will face off in the semifinals since the Final Four round was instituted back in 1998.
The stakes, however, remain as high as ever was before. The Red Lions are determined to make it back to the Last Dance for the 12th straight year while the Golden Stags are eager to clinch what seems to be an elusive finals ticket for the first time since winning it all back in 2009.
“I’m hoping that everybody will step up,” said San Sebastian coach Egay Macaraya, who will try to squeeze the best anew from his all-Filipino crew led by ace forward Michael Calisaan. “Hopefully, hindi sila magsawang manalo at makuntento dito sa narating namin.”
For sure, Macaraya’s San Beda counterpart, Boyet Fernandez, is telling the Red Lions the same thing since they will be armed with a psychological edge after sweeping the Golden Stags in the elimination round.
The accusation he made on Calisaan for being a “dirty player” earlier could provide another interesting sub-plot, but Fernandez is keeping his focus on the bigger picture. “We give more concern on how we could preserve our (winning) tradition at San Beda,” he said.
Defense should be the name of the game for both teams, with the Red Lions limiting their rivals to just 65.8 points—a league-best—and the Golden Stags not far behind at third with 70.2 points.
“Hindi basta-basta ang San Beda,” said Calisaan, who is coming off a career-best 35-point explosion against Jose Rizal University the last time out. “Kailangan pa rin namin mas pagsumikapan kung gusto namin makapasok sa finals.”
The Red Lions, led by Robert Bolick, Javee Mocon and Cameroon big man Donald Tankoua, are expected to maximize their loaded firepower and that’s enough for the Golden Stags to be wary of, according to Macaraya.
“We have to play good defense on them because this is a good offensive team. Kahit sa opensa, malalaki din. ‘Yung import na magaling din. We will just try our very best,” he vowed.
In juniors play, San Beda and La Salle-Greenhills go at it anew at 1 p.m., with the winner advancing to a race-to-two finals affair against defending champion Mapua.
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