SAN Beda survived a brave stand by College of St. Benilde, 71-70, behind a perfectly executed alley-oop play finished by Art dela Cruz to start its quest for a fourth straight NCAA men’s basketball title on a high note on Saturday at the Mall of Asia Arena.
The Blazers, this year’s hosts, mounted a comeback that was capped off a left-wing triple by Jose Saavedra that gave them the lead for the first time in the match, 70-69, with five seconds left.
The Lions found an answer when dela Cruz lost his man with a series of picks before catching an inbound pass from Rome dela Rosa to score the winner.
“We practiced that play a hundred times,” said Lions coach Boyet Fernandez, who emerged successful in his first NCAA test at the helm of the three-time champions. “But it was really a lucky shot, a lucky game for us. Credit to Benilde.”
“Art and I had eye contact, but I wasn’t expecting him to be that open, so once I saw he was a little open, I just threw it up there and just trusted him,” Dela Rosa, the Lions’ skipper, said. “That’s what this team is all about.”
The Lions led, 61-48, after Jaypee Mendoza scored on a putback early in the payoff period, before the Blazers leaned on the duo of Mark Romero and Paolo Taha and capitalized on San Beda’s maze of errors to close the gap and eventually, took the lead.
However, Dela Cruz, who finished with a team-high 16 points along with 11 rebounds, two assists, one steal, and one block, took advantage of the Lions’ last offensive play and ended up the hero.
“I’m just thankful to coach for giving me the opportunity and I stepped up,” Dela Cruz said.
Romero, taking the cudgels left by star player Carlo Lastimosa, registered a game-high 19 points to go with eight rebounds, and three assists, while Taha added 15 markers on 6-of-9 shooting from the field on top of six boards for St. Benilde.
San Beda (71) -- Dela Cruz 16, Adeogun 11, Dela Rosa 10, Amer 9, Koga 8, Mendoza 4, D. Semerad 4, Abarcar 3, Ludovice 2, Pascual 2, A. Semerad 2.
St. Benilde (70) -- Romero 19, Taha 15, Ongetco 10, Saavedra 10, Bartolo 9, Argamino 3, Garcia 2, Sinco 2, Carlos 0, Deles 0, Grey 0, Jonson 0.
Quarterscores: 22-12, 38-28, 57-48, 71-70.