THE transformation of Raymond Almazan to a complete player was in full effect Saturday when he powered Letran to a 74-69 victory over a rebuilding San Sebastian side that set the Knights’ title bid in motion in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Known more for his defensive prowess, the towering veteran big man shone offensively too, tallying 15 points, grabbing 20 rebounds, and had five block shots for the Knights, last year’s losing finalists.
“Lahat talaga may go-signal naman tumira kaya yun ang maganda kay coach,” Almazan said, referring to new coach Caloy Garcia, who employed in Letran the same system of Rain or Shine in the PBA where the big men are licensed to shoot.
Garcia serves as one of coach Yeng Guiao’s deputies at Rain or Shine.
So confident the rookie Letran coach with Almazan is that he allowed the lanky center to attempt from three-point range.
And quick to repay his coach’s faith, the senior slotman buried one of his two shots from beyond the arc.
“Si Raymond wide-open kaya tumitira sa three points,” said Garcia, who took over the coaching reins from Louie Alas. “If you do it in practice, why not do it in the game.”
“Maganda sa kanya hindi niya naman hinahanap ang touches eh,” Garcia added. “And he made some good decisions today.”
Almazan scored four points in a crucial juncture in the fourth quarter that doused a Stags comeback from a third-quarter deficit.
While he praised Almazan, Garcia questioned some of the decisions made by highly touted rookie Rey Nambatac, who hesitated in taking the open shots, but nevertheless still delivered in his debut as he was one rebound away from completing a double-double with 13 points.
The Knights built a 54-43 lead after a jumper from skipper Jovit dela Cruz late in the third, before the Stags rallied to knot the count at 61 following a basket by rookie Jamil Ortuoste with seven minutes in the fourth.
The Stags, playing in the post-“Pinatubo Trio” era of Calvin Abueva, Ian Sangalang, and Ronald Pascual, found a gem in Ortuoste, who finished with 16 points, five rebounds, and three assists in just 18 minutes of action coming off the bench.
Bradwyn Guinto, another Stags rookie, impressed with a double-double of 17 points and 14 rebounds that went with two blocks.
Letran (74) – Almazan 15, Nambatac 13, Cruz 12, Ruaya 11, Racal 7, Gabawan 6, Luib 6, Castro 2, Publico 2, Dysam 0.
San Sebastian (69) -- Guinto 17, Ortuoste 16, Dela Cruz 9, Perez 9, Rebollos 7, De Vera 6, Gusi 3, Tano 2, Magno 0
Quarterscores: 17-17; 36-35; 58-50; 74-69.