AN undermanned Letran squad tries to defy the odds when it rekindles its storied rivalry with San Beda on Thursday in the 88th NCAA men’s basketball tournament at The Arena in San Juan.
Already orphaned by center Raymond Almazan, the Knights will face the defending champion Lions at 6 p.m. also without the services of Jonathan Belorio. The Letran power forward is serving a one-game suspension for hitting Jose Rizal University’s Ivan Camasura with an elbow above the shoulder in their game last Monday.
Despite a depleted frontline, Knights star guard Kevin Alas remains unfazed going into the match against the third-running Lions, who have a 6-2 record overall.
“Underdogs naman kami palagi sa kanila eh, pero we’re always pumped up and ready to play,” said the young Alas after the Knights’ Wednesday morning practice.
The expected epic match was already postponed twice last July 21 and August 11, both due to inclement weather.
But this time, both the Knights and Lions are finally set to lock horns as they try to atone for their respective losses in their last outings.
The Lions lost to rival San Sebastian, 71-80, last Monday, while the Knights bowed to the Bombers, 101-83, on that same day.
The Knights’ season-high 28 turnovers against the Bombers obviously hurt the team as they dropped to an even 4-4 (win-loss) slate.
Alas hopes the misfortune won’t happen again.
“We have to be more patient and involve everyone,” said Alas, who unloaded 31 points - the second time he breached the 30-point barrier this season - in a losing effort against JRU. “May tendency kasi kami na kapag nalalamangan, gusto agad namin habulin in a snap.”
Jam Cortes, the only capable big man remaining for the Knights, definitely has his role cut out for him as he faces a plethora of San Beda big men in Nigerian Ola Adeogun, Jake and Kyle Pascual, and Arthur dela Cruz.
Mapua and Arellano hope to ride the momentum of their upset wins the last time as they collide in the curtain-raiser at 4 p.m.
The Cardinals toppled the Stags, 61-54, behind the rejuvenated play of guard Josan Nimes, while the Chiefs defeated the Perpetual Help Altas, 63-54, last August 6, thanks to the double-double performance of John Pinto.
In the juniors’ division, the Mapua Red Robins take on the Arellano Braves at 12 p.m., while the San Beda Red Cubs face the Letran Squires two hours later.