Two of the top freshmen in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament are set to go under the microscope as University of Perpetual Help and San Sebastian collide in another marquee matchup on Saturday at The Arena in San Juan.
The Altas’ Juneric Baloria and Jamil Ortuoste of the Golden Stags lock horns anew in their 6 p.m. encounter after engaging in a virtual shootout the last time the two teams met.
Baloria, the prized find from Lanao del Norte, is currently the league’s Rookie of the Year award frontrunner, with the lefty shooting guard averaging a league-best 19.7 points, four rebounds, 1.5 assists, .9 steals, and .9 blocks in 17 games.
But Ortuoste, the pride of Antipolo, is not far behind with norms of 14.6 points, 4.4 boards, 2.9 assists, and one steal in 14 games.
Ortuoste even had the better of their rookie matchup in the first round when he fired all but two of his 14 points in the fourth and overtime periods to lead the Stags to a thrilling 78-77 win in a result that negated Baloria’s league-high 33-point performance.
“It’s always fun to watch those two showcase their talents,” Stags coach Topex Robinson said.
While the Altas, currently in third place in the standings with an 11-6 win-loss card, have already clinched a Final Four berth, the Stags, despite running fourth, are still in danger of missing the cut.
The Stags, at 9-7, can afford a defeat, but would rather win their last two games to avoid complications as fifth-running Emilio Aguinaldo College (8-8) is mathematically still in the running.
“It’s going to be tough, but there is no other way,” Robinson said.
Whether San Sebastian will have an easier route to the playoffs or not will be known earlier as EAC takes on eliminated Jose Rizal University at 4 o’clock.
A loss for the Generals, which faces a Heavy Bombers side that has nothing to lose with a 6-10 mark, will give the Stags some breathing room, needing only one win in their last two games to gain entry to the Final Four.