The NCAA’s fiercest rivalry is set to be rekindled on Saturday as defending champion San Beda squares off with Letran in the 88th men’s basketball tournament at The Arena in San Juan.
The two teams are far apart in the standings. The Lions are currently in a two-way tie at the top with University of Perpetual Help Altas with 4-1 (win-loss) slates, while the Knights are in the middle of the pack with a 2-3 card.
But their records won’t matter once they enter the court for the slam-bang main event set at 6 p.m.
San Beda coach Ronnie Magsanoc believes Letran’s slate is deceiving and is well aware of the Knights’ capability.
“Their standing belies their true worth,” the rookie mentor said after the Lions cruised past Emilio Aguinaldo Generals, 81-65, last Thursday.
The Knights, who snapped a three-game skid Monday after defeating Mapua, 66-60, will try to use the victory as springboard to a revival. But the team will be hard-pressed to do it without 6-foot-7 center Raymond Alamzan, who is still out with a fever.
“It’s going to be a tough game especially for my bigs,” said Knights coach Louie Alas, who still have Jam Cortes and Jonathan Belorio to lean on.
Letran’s pair of big men appeared to have their roles cut out for them as the Lions recently upgraded their frontcourt with the activation of Nigerian import Ola Adeogun.
After serving out a four-game suspension, the 6-foot-8 Adeogun made a solid debut against the Generals, tallying nine points, 14 rebounds and four blocks shots for the Mendiola-based squad.
Aside from their big men, both teams’ swingmen and point guards will also play crucial roles in the first meeting this season between the two old rivals.
San Beda’s Rome dela Rosa, Baser Amer, and Anjo Caram, who finished with double-figure outputs against the Generals, are expected to provide the same type of numbers, while Kevin Alas, Mark Cruz, and Kevin Racal of Letran are likewise projected to produce heavily for the Intramuros-based squad.
The rivalry definitely is an added motivation for both teams.
“It always adds spice to the game,” Alas said.
Mapua and Arellano, two teams tied with Letran at 2-3, battle in the curtain-raiser at 4 p.m., as each tries to get back to the .500 mark.
The Cardinals lost to the Knights in their last game despite finally suiting up rookies Gab Banal, Joseph Eriobu, Jessie Saitanan, and Mark Brana. The four were given the go-signal to play after being suspended on grounds of residency technicality.
The Chiefs meanwhile, are on a two-game winning streak after losing their first three games of the tournament. Filipino-Canadian rookie swingman James Forrester has been credited for the sudden resurgence of Arellano.
In the juniors’ division, the Mapua Red Robins take on the Arellano Braves at 12 noon, before the San Beda Red Cubs face the Letran Squires two hours later.