IT undoubtedly took a lot of hard work for Letran to get to where it is right now in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.
And it will definitely take more for the pacesetting Knights to sustain their dominance in the country’s oldest collegiate league.
The league-leader braces for another tough battle on Thursday when it seeks a ninth victory in 10 games, this time against a dangerous Lyceum side at The Arena in San Juan.
At first glance, it may seem the Knights were in cruise control in establishing their near-flawless record, but they certainly bled for every victory.
Except for their 87-68 rout of Mapua in the first round, the Knights have won their games by an average margin of just 5.8 points, with most minnows unexpectedly pushing the team to the limit.
Letran coach Caloy Garcia doesn’t mind another down-the-wire finish against the Knights’ languishing Intramuros neighbor in their 6 p.m. encounter.
“The nice thing about close games is we’re learning a lot and we’re winning those games,” Garcia said. “Mas nagkakaroon kami ng kumpiyansa.”
“Ang worry ko lang if we play sluggish and have too much confidence, because I think we have the materials to match up with other teams,” he added.
Behind MVP race frontrunner Raymond Almazan and a stellar supporting cast led by do-it-all forward Kevin Racal, diminutive dynamo Mark Cruz, and rookie Rey Nambatac, the Knights are looking to replicate their 61-53 conquest of the Pirates in the first round.
Lyceum is near the bottom of the 10-team field with a 3-7 win-loss card, with its last outing a 63-81 beating at the hands of defending champion San Beda last Saturday in a game where starting guard Dexter Zamora returned from a three-game suspension to provide the team an offensive spark in a losing effort.
Meanwhile, San Sebastian and Emilio Aguinaldo College square off in a 4 p.m. battle featuring two teams with the same 4-5 records but of contrasting streaks.
The slumping Stags seek to put an end to a three-game skid against a surging Generals side that tries to keep a three-game winning streak alive.