FINAL Four rookies Arellano and Jose Rizal University try to show maturity in the knockout stage of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament as they collide on Wednesday at the Mall of Asia Arena.
With perennial postseason participants San Sebastian and Letran faltering this year, the Chiefs and the Heavy Bombers have taken their places to give the semifinal picture a new look.
The Chiefs have broken through the Final Four for the first time since joining the country’s oldest collegiate league five years ago, while the Bombers are virtual newbies as they are making a return after missing the cut the last two years.
Tipoff is at 4 p.m. and the Chiefs enjoy a twice-to-beat advantage, although they are coming off a two-game slump that forced them to give up the top spot to San Beda, which faces University of Perpetual Help in the other semifinal paring.
“We will try to be consistent on things we do and keep our focus,” Chiefs coach Jerry Codiñera said.
The two teams split their regular-season series, with the Bombers eking out a 99-98 triple-overtime victory in the first round, before the Chiefs knotted the count with a 75-69 win in their next meeting.
“It’s going to be an even matchup,” said Codiñera, who will be in a coaching battle with fellow PBA legend and good friend Vergel Meneses, whose team is riding the momentum of a four-game winning streak.
Still, Meneses is installing the Chiefs as the favorites, although he’s hoping for an upset.
“We just have to be ready,” the fiery mentor said. “Underdog kami dito, pero malay natin makasilat tayo.”
“But we’re not in a position to play relaxed basketball,” added Meneses, who will once again lean on Philip Paniamogan, Michael Mabulac, Tey Teodoro, and Razak Abdul Wahab. "Every possession counts. Every decision is very important.”
While they rely on the same suffocating full-court defense, the two teams bank on different offensive styles. The Chiefs thrive on keeping the pace fast behind spitfire guards Jiovani Jalalon and Nard Pinto apart from American Dioncee Holts, while the Bombers usually play half-court sets.