SURPRISE co-leader Jose Rizal University is guarding against complacency as it begins its second-round campaign in the 88th NCAA men’s basketball tournament against Arellano University on Monday at The Arena in San Juan.
The Bombers went under the radar in their first nine games of the season and surprisingly came out tied at the top with two fancied teams at 7-2 at the end of the first round.
“Nobody expected us to be here,” Bombers coach Vergel Meneses said after his overachieving team blasted Letran, 101-83, last week.
But the 43-year-old mentor knows all eyes will now be on his Bombers after their great start in the tournament.
“Hindi tayo pwede mag-relax. We have to stay focused,” Meneses said. “Any time pwede tayo bumaba. Sa second round, maraming pwedeng mangyari.”
The Bombers are currently in second place but a win against the Chiefs in their 4 p.m. affair would grant them a share of first place with defending champion San Beda at 8-2.
Apart from relying on their trademark full-court defense, the Bombers have found consistent offensive production from Nate Matute and Byron Villarias in the first round.
Villarias registered a career-high 29 points while Matute finished with 25 as the hot-shooting duo accounted for more than half of the Bombers’ triple-digit production against the Knights.
And the Bombers will again count on the duo in the match against Arellano.
The Chiefs, hoping to bounce back from a 49-68 loss to Mapua last Thursday, hope to gain significant contribution from their three-guard rotation of Rocky Acidre, John Pinto, and Vergel Zulueta.
Among the three, only Acidre came up big against the Cardinals, firing a team-high 20 points and spearheading a third-quarter Arellano rally that fell short. Pinto, the prolific rookie was only good for four points, while Zulueta, the team’s skipper, went scoreless.
University of Perpetual Help likewise seeks to continue its surprising start in the country’s oldest collegiate league as it takes on slumping College of St. Benilde in the second game at 6 o’clock.
Despite surrendering their last game in the first round against Arellano, 54-63, the Altas still put together a memorable first round with a 6-3 mark under new coach Aric del Rosario.
The Blazers have yet to live up to their pre-tournament tag as Final Four contenders as they have been inconsistent with a 3-6 record in the first round.
Personnel woes will compound the Blazers’ problems as they will miss the services of Joel Tolentino and Rhoel Maconocido, who were both suspended for their roles in the scuffle during their 61-76 loss to Emilio Aguinaldo last time.