Perpetual Help Altas and St. Benilde Blazers, Final Four contenders led by PBA-bound players, press NCAA bids against separate foes
Focus will be on PBA-bound Juneric Baloria and Harold Arboleda of Perpetual Help and St. Benilde's Mark Romero and Paolo Taha as the NCAA cage wars continue. Jerome Ascano 

TWO Final Four contenders bannered by PBA-bound players press their respective campaigns against separate opponents on Wednesday in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament at The Arena in San Juan.

University of Perpetual Help and College of St. Benilde, teams locked in a three-way logjam with Jose Rizal University in third spot, tangle with Letran and Lyceum, respectively, hoping to strengthen their lofty positions.

Led by stars Harold Arboleda and Juneric Baloria, who were drafted last Sunday, the Altas take on the Knights in the curtain-raiser of the double-header at 2 p.m.

The Blazers, spearheaded by their own future PBA players Paolo Taha and Mark Romero, along with Jonathan Grey, target a seventh victory in 11 games as they face the Pirates, who are in the middle of the pack with a 5-5 win-loss card, in the second game at 4 o’clock.

The Altas aim to keep in step with the Blazers as they count on Arboleda, the 20th overall pick by Talk ’N Text, and Baloria, selected 10 picks later by Blackwater.

The two stars form half of the Las Pinas-based dribblers’ fearsome foursome with Earl Thompson and Justine Alano, who all have now been getting ample support from their role players. Foremost is rookie forward Gab Dagangon, who scored a team-high-tying 14 points in their 65-60 win over Lyceum last Saturday.

Together, they take on a similarly undersized squad in the Knights. Perpetual comes in a slight favorite owing to its 85-82 triumph in their first encounter last August 9.

But the Altas face a different, resurgent Knights side this time.

The Knights, who started last season winning their first seven games, took this long to notch their first winning streak of Season 90, having won their last two games, the latest an 85-77 win over JRU last Friday.

Stuck near the bottom of the 10-team standings, the Intramuros-based dribblers, who made the Finals the last two years, are now creeping up, situated in seventh spot.

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“Maganda ang laro ng Letran kaya hindi puwede mag-relax para maganda rin ang tsansa namin sa top four,” Altas coach Aric del Rosario said.

“Kumbaga, kakambal namin sila dito sa NC,” Knights coach Caloy Garcia said. “Pareho kaming no import, pareho kami sa height, at scoring.”

“At the end of the day, it’s who wants it more.”

The desire was best typified by Knights star guard Mark Cruz, who hit the clutch baskets in the game against the Bombers to be adjudged the NCAA Press Corps Player of the Week.

Follow the writer on Twitter: @KarloSacamos