MAPUA could not have picked a better time to end its drought in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.
Refusing to get awed by their opponents' pedigree, the cellar-dwelling Cardinals pulled off the biggest upset this season, an 81-76 shocker over league-leading San Beda that snapped a 13-game skid on Monday at The Arena in San Juan.
Birthday-boy Jessie Saitanan delivered the key baskets down the stretch and gave himself a fitting present as the Cardinals notched their first win in three months and only second overall in 16 games.
“Kung may tiyaga, may nilaga,” said Cardinals coach Atoy Co, whose wards last won in July 1 when the Cardinals beat San Sebastian, 104-99, in overtime. “Hindi talaga ako nag-give up sa kanila.”
The Cardinals dealt the defending champion Lions only their third loss in 16 games.
Saitanan, who turned 21 on Monday, almost singlehandedly carried the Cardinals in the payoff period, where he scored 10 of his 18 points, all in a salvo in the endgame that kept the Lions at bay.
With nothing to lose after having been long eliminated from playoff contention, the Cardinals rallied from an early double-digit deficit and kept the game close from then on.
The Lions seemed poised to pull away when they built a nine-point lead entering the fourth quarter behind Art dela Cruz, who had 11 of his 23 points in the third canto as he continued to flaunt his vastly-improved three-point shooting.
But the Cardinals gallantly fought their way back.
Trailing, 68-71, with a little over four minutes remaining, Mapua banked on Saitanan’s mid-range shooting to finish the game on a 13-5 run for the win before a stunned crowd at The Arena.
“This game kung natalo kami na lumalaban, happy na ako nun,” Co said. “Pero double happy ako dahil nanalo kami. At triple happy ako dahil number one `yung tinalo namin.”
Mapua (81) -- Saitanan 18, Braña 14, Isit 11, Magsigay 9, Cantos 9, Eriobu 8, Ighalo 7, Estrella 5, Biteng 0, Gabo 0, Gonzalez 0, Magtoto 0.
San Beda (76) -- Dela Cruz 23, Dela Rosa 17, Adeogun 8, Koga 7, Amer 7, Abarcar 5, Ludovice 3, Villaruz 2, Abatayo 2, Pascual 2, A. Semerad 0, Mendoza 0, Sara 0, D. Semerad 0.
Quarterscores: 13-24; 35-39; 53-64; 81-76.