St. Benilde Blazers seek to sustain steady rise in ranks as they face Arellano Chiefs

COLLEGE of St. Benilde tries to remind the rest of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament that the semifinal cast remains far from settled as it tangles with contender Arellano on Saturday at The Arena in San Juan.

The Blazers are having their best season in more than a decade, currently posting a win-loss record above .500 at 8-5 to lurk behind the leaders.

“We’re still outside the Final Four picture, but we’re just right behind,” Blazers coach Gabby Velasco said after his team’s 80-74 win over San Sebastian just last Wednesday.

But the Blazers have actually climbed to fourth spot after Perpetual Help suffered a 76-80 loss to Jose Rizal University on Friday. The Blazers and the Altas sport similar records, but the former gains the upper hand owing to the win-over-the-other rule.

Victory against the Chiefs in the lone seniors’ game at 2:30 p.m. will enable the Blazers to continue their steady rise and move a half-game behind the Bombers, who tote a 9-4 record.

It’s easier said than done, however, as the Blazers face a Chiefs side that’s eager to bounce back following an 86-101 loss to the Altas last Monday.

The second-running Chiefs nipped the Blazers, 67-66, in the first round and will turn to their explosive backcourt duo of Nard Pinto and Jiovani Jalalon apart from American slotman Dioncee Holts to score a repeat and move a half-game behind San Beda.

“This is one game we really have to play well in,” said Velasco, who will once again draw strength from terrific trio of Mark Romero, Paolo Taha, and Jonathan Grey. “Galing sila sa talo, so definitely it’s going to be tough for us.”

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