San Beda eyes NCAA solo lead as it meets Jose Rizal in battle of heavyweights 
Art dela Cruz torched Jose Rizal for 29 points the first time the San Beda Red Lions met the Heavy Bombers in this year's NCAA men's basketball tournament. Jerome Ascano

REIGNING five-time champion San Beda battles dangerous Jose Rizal University on Thursday with an eye on no less than the solo lead in the 91st NCAA men’s basketball tournament at The Arena in San Juan City.

The Lions opened up their second round campaign by routing the Emilio Aguinaldo Generals, 96-84, and the St. Benilde Blazers, 89-63, last week to tie the Letran Knights on top with identical 9-2 (win-loss) records.

The reigning champions and Heavy Bombers slug it out at 4 p.m.

Arthur dela Cruz, one of the top contenders for the MVP plum and picked ninth overall by Blackwater in the recent PBA draft, will be the player to watch out for San Beda as he averaged 23.5 points, 10 rebounds, six assists, and two steals in the team’s last two outings.

Interestingly, it was also dela Cruz who came through for the Red Lions in their first round meeting against the Heavy Bombers, which they won, 88-69, after torching the opposition for 29 points, six rebounds, nine assists, and four steals.

Dela Cruz though, is aware the Lions will be up against one of the league's top defending teams.

“They're always a tough match up,” said the son of former PBA player Art dela Cruz.

The Bombers meanwhile, are hoping to use their morale-boosting 114-112 double overtime win over the Arellano Chiefs in a bid to turn the tables on the favored Lions.

“We need to limit them to less than 80 for us to have a chance to beat them,” admitted Jose Rizal mentor Vergel Meneses.

Meanwhile, Mapua hopes to ride the crest of its shock 70-65 upset of Perpetual Help a week back as it faces an unpredictable San Sebastian side in the 2 p.m. first game.

The Cardinals, current at no. 5 with an even 5-5 card, however will still be without injured players CJ Isit (dislocated elbow) and Andretti Stevens, although star player Josan Nimes is expected to return to action against the Stags.

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