MARK Cruz gave himself a fitting belated birthday present on Monday when he formed a lethal combination with Raymond Almazan in leading Letran to an 87-68 victory over Mapua in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament at The Arena in San Juan.
Cruz, the pint-sized point guard who celebrated his 21stbirthday last Saturday, orchestrated the offense and created his own plays on a variety of moves, while Almazan, the towering, lanky slotman, continued to impose his will in the paint for the Knights, who notched their seventh straight win for their best league start in the last eight years.
Coming off a 25-point performance against Arellano, the 5-foot-5 Cruz registered big man-like numbers this time with 22 points and 10 boards that went with five assists and four steals, while Almazan also posted a double-double of 13 points and 14 boards along with two blocks.
“Nakuha ko na rin kumpiyansa ko last game,” said Cruz, who received a text message from injured teammate Franz Dysam reminding him to sustain his fine play.
“Yung game ngayon for Franz pa rin, at teammates ko nandyan rin para suportahan ako.”
The winning streak of the Knights, the remaining unbeaten team in the country’s oldest collegiate league, is their most impressive to start the season since 2005 when they won their first 11 games on the way to winning the title.
The latest victory is also Letran’s last game before the two-week Fiba-Asia Men’s Championship break.
“Mahaba-haba `yung break namin so we had to let it all out today,” Knights coach Caloy Garcia said. “Right now, we want to enjoy the seven wins first then get back to work after siguro a few days off.”
The Knights dealt the Cardinals their fourth straight loss and sixth overall against a lone win that left Mapua in the bottom of the standings.
The Knights banked on a strong start and never showed signs of let-up as they maintained a double-digit lead throughout, the biggest of which came at 84-63 after an Almazan slam dunk late in the game.
Letran (87) -- Cruz 22, Almazan 13, Belorio 12, Luib 11, Tambeling 8, Racal 8, Nambatac 7, Po 3, Buenaflor 3, Castro 0, Ruaya 0, Olotu 0, Publico 0.
Mapua (68) -- Ighalo 17, Biteng 11, Braña 11, Eriobu 11, Isit 6, Saitanan 6, Gonzalez 2, Magsigay 2, Estrella 2, Sumampong 0, Gabo 0, Guzman 0, Magtoto 0, Layug 0.
Quarterscores: 25-8; 47-30; 68-53; 87-68.