IT has been a year, but the pain of losing to an arch nemesis in the biggest stage of collegiate basketball still lingers for Raymond Almazan.
It was last season when San Beda defeated Almazan and the rest of the Letran Knights in three games to capture a third straight title and cement the Red Lions’ status as the NCAA’s most successful men’s basketball team with a 17th crown overall.
“Sariwa pa sa amin 'yun,” Almazan bared of the Knights’ Finals loss to the Red Lions last year. “So may gigil kami na bumawi this year.”
And nothing can heal the Knights’ star slotman’s wound better than to simply avoid the same fate in this year’s edition of the Finals, starting with Game One on Monday at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Last year, San Beda claimed Game One, 62-60, before the Knights struck back with a 62-55 Game Two victory to force a do-or-die match, where the Lions outclassed the Knights, 67-39.
The archrivals' fates have once again intertwined after Letran pummeled San Sebastian, 85-58, and San Beda demolished University of Perpetual Help, 70-51, in the Final Four last Thursday to forge another must-see matchup in the championship round.
But for Almazan, the main thing different this time will be the outcome in the Finals.
“Hindi na mangyayari yung last year,” the pro-bound pride of Bataan said. “Bibigyan namin sila ng magandang laban.”
Unlike last year when he was involved in a mysterious two-month disappearance that left the Knights with an uphill climb to the Finals, Almazan had a smoother ride this year on the way to being named the league MVP.
Tipoff is at 2:30 p.m. with the Knights are hoping to ride the momentum of a hot streak that has seen them win five of their last six games, including the blowout victory against the Altas in the semifinals that turned out to be their most lopsided victory this season.
Knights coach Caloy Garcia, however, played down the notion that the Knights are peaking at the right time, saying their performance against the Lions still remains to be seen.
“Hindi ako naniniwala sa peak,” said Garcia, who is bringing the best out his star-studded crew he inherited from multi-titled mentor Louie Alas. “It’s basically how you play on a given day. We just have to be ready and hope we come out strong.”