FOR a team that has been a fixture in the Final Four the past decade, being in the middle of the pack at the moment is certainly unfamiliar territory.
But with five games to go, Letran is still optimistic about its chance to make the semifinals of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament for the ninth time in the last 11 years.
The Knights try to sustain their Final Four drive as they tangle with College of St. Benilde on Monday at the Arena in San Juan.
With a 7-6 record, the Knights are running fifth just a game behind joint third-placers Jose Rizal University and University of Perpetual Help, which both have 8-5 win-loss slates.
Winning alone, however, won’t assure the Knights anything, as they also keep their fingers crossed the other Final Four contenders get unlucky in their remaining games.
“Hindi namin kontrolado ang fate namin. We just try to focus on things we have control on,” said Knights coach Louie Alas, whose wards benefited from the recent losses suffered by the Bombers and Altas.
One thing the Knights have control of has something to do with their personnel.
Boosted by the return of center Raymond Almazan, the Knights had the luxury of a complete and towering lineup in their last three games.
The 6-foot-7 Almazan, who had 15 points, nine boards, and three blocks in the Knights’ 76-60 win over Lyceum last week, has been the missing link for the team in the first round as they obviously lacked an intimidating presence down low.
Kevin Alas remains the glue that keeps the Knights together, proving it the last time against the cellar-dwelling Pirates by breaking the 30-point barrier for the third time this season.
The Knights face another bottom-half team in the 4-9 Blazers, who failed to live up to the hype after being labeled as Final Four contenders in the preseason.
Led by another dynamic guard in Carlo Lastimosa, the Blazers, though, showed a glimpse of what they can accomplish when they walloped the Knights, 77-60, in their first round meeting.
Mapua, another Final Four aspirant, takes on powerhouse San Sebastian in the opener at 4 p.m.
The Cardinals, who sport a 5-8 mark, will try to duplicate their 61-54 upset of the Stags in the first round as they lean anew on Mike Parala and Josan Nimes.
A win for the 10-3 Stags will move them half-a-game behind idle leader San Beda.