DEFENDING champion San Beda guns for a remarkable seventh straight finals appearance in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament as it battles upset-conscious University of Perpetual Help when the Final Four gets underway on Saturday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Game time is set at 4 p.m. with the top seeded two-time champions Lions needing just a win to earn a return trip to the best-of-three title series.
But in the Altas, the Lions face a title-driven opponent who’s playing in the semifinals for the first time in eight years.
The Altas and coach Aric del Rosario earned the last ticket to the Final Four after beating out the Jose Rizal Heavy Bombers in a sudden-death playoff Thursday night, 73-68.
The match-up pitting the Lions and Altas excites del Rosario to no end that he looks forward to playing his first game at the Big Dome after a long while.
“Tagal ko na hindi nakalaro sa Araneta,” beamed the 72-year-old Del Rosario. “May chance kami manalo kasi tinalo na namin yun eh.”
The well-loved college coach, who won four titles with University of Santo Tomas in the UAAP in the 90s, was referring to the memorable 88-87 overtime win by the Altas over the Lions in the first round of the regular season.
That game was best remembered for the amazing backcourt heave by San Beda playmaker Baser Amer that beat the buzzer and forced overtime.
But swingmen Earl Thompson and Jet Vidal took over for the Altas in the extra period to lift the team to the statement victory.
San Beda coach Ronnie Magsanoc hasn’t forgotten that classic game despite the Lions exacting revenge in the second round via a 60-53 win.
“We just have to be ready for anything that they will come out with. We have to believe that we can handle the challenge,” he said.
“We have to find ways to exceed their energy and intensity,” added the rookie mentor, who, apart from Amer, will lean on skipper Jake Pascual, Rome dela Rosa, Kyle Pascual, Anjo Caram, and Art dela Cruz on offense and Nigerian center Ola Adeogun on defense.
“Hopefully our desire to get past them will be anchored on hard work and team ball.”
The Lions breezed through the season and finished the elimination round on top with a 15-3 win-loss card.
Led by Thompson and Vidal, the Altas, on the other hand, finished with their first winning record since the 2004 season at 10-8, but had to go through a playoff against the Heavy Bombers to get through to where they are right now.
Thompson, set to be named to the league’s Mythical team, and Vidal had sub-par efforts against the Bombers, but role players Justine Alano, Nosa Omorogbe, and Chris Elopre stepped up to lead the Las Piñas-based team to the all-important victory.