Friendship set aside as Meneses, Codiñera face off in battle of wits in NCAA Final Four
Vergel Meneses has led JRU back to the Final Four after a two-year absence. Dante Peralta

FRIENDS turn into foes when Arellano and Jose Rizal University face off in the Final Four of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament on Wednesday at the Mall of Asia Arena.

When the twice-to-beat Chiefs and Heavy Bombers collide on the court, an interesting subplot will be the battle on the sidelines between Jerry Codiñera and Vergel Meneses.

The two head coaches go a long way back, having played with and against each other in the PBA during the 1990s. They became even closer after their retirement as they were regular roommates during PBA legends tour games.

“Si Jerry boy ang pinaka-close ko sa mga coach sa NCAA,” Meneses said. “Tagal na kaming mag-kaibigan niyan.”

The two buddies, however, will have to set aside their friendship in the meantime as they try to steer their squads to a coveted Finals berth opposite the survivor of the San Beda-University of Perpetual Help matchup.

Tipoff is at 2 p.m. and the second-seeded Chiefs, who are in their maiden semifinal appearance since joining the country’s oldest collegiate league five years ago, need only one win against the Bombers to advance.

But the Bombers, who are making a return trip to the postseason after a two-year absence, are expected to provide a worthy challenge.

Their head-to-head matchup in the regular season is proof, with JRU outlasting Arellano in triple overtime in the first round, before the Chiefs got back with a similar thrilling win in their second encounter.

Meneses said he and Codiñera don’t talk to each other before and after their games, but it’s a different story outside the venue.

“Basta pag sa court, trabaho lang,” Meneses said.

Follow the writer on Twitter: @KarloSacamos