St. Benilde Blazers, Perpetual Help Altas tangle as NCAA Final Four race heats up
Coach Gabby Velasco is looking to steer the Blazers to their first semifinal stint in over a decade. Jerome Ascano

THE race to the Final Four of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament heats up as College of St. Benilde and University of Perpetual Help face off on Wednesday at The Arena in San Juan.

Tipoff of the lone seniors’ match is at 4 p.m., with the Blazers and Altas having the same goal of inching closer to a postseason berth.

But both teams are fueled by different motivations.

The Blazers are trying to book their first ticket since 2002 and a victory against the Altas will be their fourth straight and 11th overall in 16 games that would tighten their grip of third spot.

“It’s another big game,” Blazers coach Gabby Velasco said. “Perpetual got a big win against San Beda and we really have to fight it out against this team hanggang matapos.”

The Altas have made the semifinals the last two years under Aric del Rosario and are aiming for a third in the multi-titled mentor’s last of a three-year contract.

“Pipilitin namin makarating (sa Final Four),” Del Rosario said. “Lalo na ngayon, importante lahat ng game.”

The Altas bled for every point to survive the Red Lions, 76-75, last week, but didn’t have to break a sweat to defeat depleted Emilio Aguinaldo College via forfeiture, improving their win win-loss record to 10-6 in a share of fourth spot with Jose Rizal University.

A win against the Blazers will enable them to supplant their opponents from third place, while a loss will put the Altas below the semifinal places.

The Blazers outlasted the Altas, 77-73, in the first round behind Jonathan Grey, who will once again team up with Mark Romero and Paolo Taha to lead the Taft-based dribblers.

Harold Arboleda, the hero of the hard-earned win against San Beda, is part of the Altas’ own version of a Big Three along with Earl Thompson and Juneric Baloria.

Follow the writer on Twitter: @KarloSacamos