THE real threat to San Beda’s stranglehold — at least this early in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament -- is set to be determined on Saturday when Arellano and University of Perpetual Help collide at The Arena in San Juan.
The match features a battle between title contenders and the Red Lions’ closest pursuers, as the Chiefs and Altas face off in the lone seniors’ match at 2:30 p.m.
A victory by the Chiefs, who have won four of five games, would strengthen their hold of solo second spot, while the Altas would supplant them if the Las Piñas-based side, which sports a 3-1 win-loss card, emerges victorious in the marquee matchup.
The Chiefs have been on a tear under new coach Jerry Codiñera, who has found a balance between defense — what he’s known for, and offense — what his squad is known for, evidenced by putting up league-bests in scoring 83.6 points and turnovers forced (23.4) in their first five games.
That has also enabled the Legarda-based squad to establish its best start since joining the country’s oldest collegiate league in 2009.
But the Chiefs, who repulsed San Sebastian, 96-86 last Wednesday, face another acid test in the Altas, who are eager to recover after suffering their first loss of the tournament.
“Dangerous,” Codiñera said of the Altas, stressing the team’s depth. “They have eight solid players. If you just go there taking them lightly, patay ka.”
Led by the troika of Earl Thompson, Harold Arboleda and Juneric Baloria, the Altas hope to bounce back from a disappointing 61-62 setback at the hands of Jose Rizal University also last Wednesday.
Only Arboleda and Baloria delivered their usual numbers, with Thompson held to single digit scoring and committed nine turnovers against the Bombers.
And the triple threat has to click on all cylinders against the Chiefs, a team Altas coach Aric del Rosario feels is in a higher level than JRU.
“Mas mabigat na kalaban,” the veteran mentor said of Arellano, bannered by American slotman Dioncee Holts and spitfire guards Nard Pinto and Jiovani Jalalon. “Ang laki. Madaming big man tsaka ang lakas ng point (guard).”