FINAL Four contenders Jose Rizal University and Letran face off on Saturday in a crucial NCAA men’s basketball match that will make a clear picture of the semifinal scenario.
Sporting similar 9-6 win-loss cards with University of Perpetual Help, the Bombers and Knights take the court at The Arena in San Juan at 6 p.m., with the winner seizing solo third place and the loser relegated to fifth place.
The Bombers outclassed the Knights, 101-83, in their first-round encounter, that ironically saw JRU – a team that prides itself on defense – scoring the most points by a squad this season.
But the Knights played in that Aug. 13 game without Raymond Almazan, the team's prized 6-foot-7 defensive slotman, who was in the middle of a mysterious two-month absence at the time.
With Almazan back in the active roster and the Knights peaking at the right time, the Bombers definitely don’t expect a one-sided affair this time.
“Letran’s playing superb ball right now,” said Bombers coach Vergel Meneses, whose team is coming off a 62-56 win over College of St. Benilde last Monday. “I just want my boys to keep pushing themselves.”
Proof of how dangerous the team has become since the return of Almazan, the Knights whipped second-running San Sebastian, 82-67, last Saturday despite star guard Kevin Alas riding the bench for most of the second half due to foul trouble.
Kevin Racal starred for the Knights against the powerhouse Stags squad, pumping in 10 of his 18 points in the decisive third period in a performance that earned him the NCAA Press Corps Player of the Week honors.
The Bombers, who played with an undermanned backcourt against the Blazers, turned to their seniors Decoy Lopez and Nate Matute to pull off the victory.
Lopez registered an all-around effort of 16 points, nine boards, three assists, and two steals, while Matute buried seven of his nine markers in the last five minutes to take the fight out of the Blazers.
JRU is again without starting point guard Alex Almario - out for the rest of the season after being diagnosed with a rheumatic heart ailment - and Ivan Camasura, who’s still recovering from dengue fever.
In the first game at 4 p.m., Emilio Aguinaldo College tries to keep its fading Final Four hopes alive as it takes on St Benilde.
The Generals (6-9) used a strong start to drub the Lyceum, Pirates 94-73, just last Thursday and remain in the hunt for a semifinals berth.