St. Benilde tries to move closer to semifinal berth as Blazers take on suddenly surging Mapua Cardinals
Coach Gabby Velasco and the Blazers try to tighten their grip on third place and stay on track for semifinals. Jerome Ascano

COLLEGE of St. Benilde aims to move a step closer to its first Final Four appearance in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament in more than a decade as it squares off against resurgent Mapua on Monday at The Arena in San Juan.

Outside looking in for the most part of the season, the Blazers are poised to make the playoffs for the first time since 2002, having crept inside the semifinal places with five wins in their last six games and nine overall in 14 outings.

The Taft-based dribblers won, 106-97, over Arellano two Saturdays ago to share third place with Jose Rizal University and have a chance to move to within a half game of second-running Arellano.

The Blazers and Cardinals clash at 2 p.m.

“We very much like where we are,” Blazers coach Gabby Velasco. “But we still have to take it one game at a time.”

The Blazers next foe is dangerous as the Cardinals have put up a string of successful results after being stuck at the bottom of the pile since last year.

The Cardinals are now in eighth spot with a 4-10 win-loss card on a three-game winning streak.

“We have been playing a lot better together as a unit and I think we’re still getting better,” Cardinals star guard CJ Isit said after his team stunned contender Perpetual Help, 91-81, last Wednesday.

Mapua coach Atoy Co is confident of a win this time after they have already doubled their win total from last season.

“Why not? We were able to beat Perpetual, one of the top teams in the league,” the PBA great said about facing a team led by Mark Romero, Paolo Taha, and Jonathan Grey. “As long as we play the same way like we did against the Altas, we can do it again.”

Perpetual Help, running fifth with an 8-6 slate, tries to keep in step with the Blazers and the Bombers as it takes on new cellar-dweller San Sebastian (3-11) in the second game at 4 o’clock.

Follow the writer on Twitter: @KarloSacamos