SAN Beda aims to become the most successful NCAA men’s basketball team in history as it battles a Letran side fighting for survival in Game Two of the Finals at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum on Saturday.
Tipoff is set at 5:30 p.m. with the Red Lions going for third successive title, their sixth over the last seven years, and 17th overall, which would move them one ahead of Letran on the all-time list.
The two-time defending champions took Game One, 62-60, on Thursday night in a thrilling game that showed why the Lions are the best defensive team in the league.
Double-teaming Letran guard Kevin Alas in his team’s final offensive possession, the Lions forced the Knights star to a poor pass that led to a turnover which cost them the game.
And the Lions will again turn to their vaunted defense, which limited Alas to just three points in the second half after scoring 15 in the first, to finish off the Knights.
“Our baseline has always been to focus on making stops,” said Lions coach Ronnie Magsanoc, who takes pride in being a defense-oriented coach.
“This is not the same powerhouse lineup they had before when they were so big and massive. This is a bunch of players trying to play their roles to their best.”
Gone are former star guards Garvo Lanete, Borgie Hermida, and Bam-Bam Gamalinda, but one player who has slowly taken the mantle as “King Lion” this season is Baser Amer.
And the sophomore playmaker from Davao again lived up to his growing stature as the new face of the team, going for 20 points, six rebounds, and three assists to spearhead the Lions in Game One.
But Amer will be the first to tell that he was not the only one who made the victory possible and got the Lions to where they are right now.
“It’s not only me, lahat naman kami nagtrabaho eh,” Amer said after Game One.
Veterans Jake Pascual, Anjo Caram, and Rome dela Rosa, along with Ola Adeogun, Ryusei Koga and Arthur dela Cruz have all done their part in helping the Lions move to the cusp of another dynasty.
“Grabe na sakripisyo nila. They have worked so hard to get the team here. All I have to do is exercise patience and guide them,” Magsanoc said.
Although the Lions have had the Knights’ number this season—and in the last four years—showing the broom is the farthest thing from their minds.
“We’re not yet thinking that far ahead,” the rookie mentor said of the possible sweep. “We’ll just try to outwork them again. (Letran) is a well-coached and hungry team that’s clutching straws.”
For the Knights to force a deciding game next week, mental toughness will be the key, according to Letran coach Louie Alas.
“It’s more on mental preparation. Kung sino tougher mentally, siya mananalo. Wala ka na itatago na X’s and O’s dito eh.”
Still smarting from the Game One defeat, the Knights also have to get Jam Cortes back in rhythm.
After becoming the team’s second-leading scorer in the elimination round with 12.5 points per game, the 24-year-old senior power forward has been a disappointment in the last three games, averaging under three points, including just two in 21 minutes in Game One.
“We’ll find ways para makalimutan yung heartbreaking loss,” Alas said.
The three-time collegiate champion coach then reminded that it’s best-of-three series.
“It’s one loss only. They have to beat us twice.”