LA Salle Greenhills repulsed San Sebastian, 76-72, on Saturday at The Arena in San Juan to earn the right to face mighty San Beda in the Finals of the NCAA juniors’ basketball tournament.
The third-seeded Greenies bucked an early double-digit deficit before turning to newly minted MVP Prince Rivero, big man Alex Barrera, and sharpshooter Michael dela Cruz in the endgame as they completed their climb in the stepladder semifinals after edging fourth seed Mapua on Thursday.
“No one expected us to be here, but we’re here so we’re just going to make the most out of it,” said Greenies coach John Flores, who lost 11 players from last season when they lost to the Staglets in the Final Four.
The stepladder semifinal format was used after Red Cubs clinched an outright berth with an 18-game sweep of the elimination round that also gives the four-time defending champions a thrice-to-beat edge in the title series.
That leaves the Greenies, who lost twice to San Beda in the elimination round, a mountain to climb as they only have one day to prepare for the thr Cubs in the Finals on Monday at the Mall of Asia Arena.
“I’m counting that the renewed confidence that we have and the high spirits we’re enjoying will carry over against San Beda,” Flores said.
After trailing by as many as 10 points, 16-26, in the first half, the Greenies started to turn the game around. Rivero, Barrera, and Dela Cruz shone brightest in the payoff period where they combined for all but three of the Greenies’ 23 points to hold off the Staglets.
Rivero finished with a game-high 21 points, along with 11 boards, and three assists, Barerra churned in a double-double of 19 points and 10 boards, and Dela Cruz added 18 markers, built on five triples.
Kobe Paras, this year’s Most Improved Player and considered the face of the juniors division, did most of his damage in the first three quarters, where the son of former pro Benjie scored all but two of his 17 points.
LSGH-CSB (76) – Ra. Rivero 21, Barrera 19, Dela Cruz 18, Paras 17, Ri. Rivero 1, Salonga 0, Ramilo 0, Gob 0, Abadeza 0, Lanot 0, San Juan 0.
SSC (72) – Navarro 17, Calisaan 14, Yong 13, Magno 8, Costelo 7, Loor 4, Ilagan 4, Cruz 3, Gatdula 2, Santos 0, Causon 0.
Quarterscores: 13-20, 29-33, 53-52, 76-72