SAN Sebastian has the twice-to-beat advantage, but Letran seems to have the real edge.
A shorthanded Stags side squares off against a fully-equipped Knights squad in an NCAA men’s Final Four match-up that rekindles one of college basketball’s most enduring rivalries at the Smart Araneta Coliseum on Saturday.
The game plan is plain and simple for the Stags: Win the 6 p.m. encounter and advance outright to the best-of-three Finals for the fourth straight season.
But that’s better said than done.
First, the Stags will be hard-pressed to win without one of the famed “Pinatubo Trio” in Ronald Pascual. The prolific San Sebastian star is serving out the one-game suspension meted on him for a disqualifying foul he committed early in the team’s 69-55 win over San Beda last Monday.
And second, the Stags are up against a Letran team that swept them in their two head-to-head encounters in the elimination round.
The Knights beat the Stags, 80-74, on opening day, before repeating the feat with an 82-67 win in the second round.
Knights coach Louie Alas, however, played down the Knights' season sweep of the powerhouse team, believing duplicating the act will be difficult at the crucial stage of the season.
“You can throw all the stats in the window. This is going to be a pretty exciting game,” he said.
Alas will again be relying on son Kevin, to carry the offensive load for the Knights, with plenty of help coming from Jam Cortes, Kevin Racal, and Mark Cruz.
But for the Knights to have a shot, Alas stressed his team needs to focus on the other side of the floor all-game long.
“It’s all about consistency in defense,” said the Letran coach, who expects Raymond Almazan and Jonathan Belorio to hold the fort against the Stags, the league’s top offensive team which averages 79.6 points per game.
Calvin Abueva, who just made history as the first player in the country to lead a league in points, rebounds, and assists, will again be the focal point of the Stags’ offense, along with soon-to-be-named MVP Ian Sangalang.
Pascual already expressed confidence the Stags can win without him as indicated by their performance against the Lions in the final game of the elimination round.
“Sa pinakita nila sa San Beda, walang duda na kaya nila manalo kahit wala ako,” he said.