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    NCAA PREVIEW: Hard-luck Mapua Cardinals destined for another trying season

    Jul 2, 2014
    Atoy Co and his hard-luck Mapua Cardinals can't promise anything but to try and win more games than the two they won all of last season.

    2013 finish: 2-16 (win-loss); last place

    Key losses: Kenneth Ighalo, Josan Nimes, Mark Braña

    Key addition: Justin Serrano

    Key holdovers: Joseph Eriobu, Andoy Estrella, Jessie Saitanan, Jeson Cantos, CJ Isit, Exeqiel Biteng, Leo Gabo

    THERE was supposedly no way to go but up. But for a cellar-dwelling team that Lady Luck keeps neglecting, then there’s just no way to go — period.

    Struck with offseason mishaps, Mapua seems destined for another trying season in Season 90 of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.

    Eager to bounce back from a season where it won just two of its 18 games, the Cardinals were looking forward to the return of high-scoring guard Josan Nimes and the breakout year of Mark Braña to make up for the loss of do-it-all forward Kenneth Ighalo.

    But Mapua’s hopes suddenly dimmed as Nimes suffered a mysterious knee injury, while Braña was ruled out due to academic deficiencies, forcing them out of the already-limited roster.

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    Nimes was poised for a rousing return after emerging as the second-leading scorer in the Filoil Flying V Cup with 20.8 points on top of five rebounds and 2.7 assists.

    But even with the prolific cager in tow, the Cardinals won just one of their six games in the preseason tournament.

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    So imagine how the Cardinals will fare without him.

    Now, the Cardinals pin their hopes on athletic but streaky wingman Joseph Eriobu, promising playmakers Andoy Estrella, CJ Isit, Exeqiel Biteng, and Leo Gabo, and serviceable big men Jessie Saitanan and Jeson Cantos.

    With that lineup, you can probably say the Cardinals’ most notable player is their coach, Atoy Co, a former PBA MVP, grand-slam champion, and member of the league’s 25 Greatest Players of all time, but has long been retired.

    The highlight of Mapua’s campaign last season was catching San Beda off guard in the second round last year when the Cardinals shocked the defending champions, 81-76.

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    But it seems there will be no upsets this time.

    If their first game — a 57-91 setback against contender University of Perpetual Help — is any indication, the Cardinals are surely in for another long season.

    “We’ll try to win more games. That’s all I can promise,” Co said.

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    Atoy Co and his hard-luck Mapua Cardinals can't promise anything but to try and win more games than the two they won all of last season.
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