SAN Beda and Letran, two teams now treading different paths after title clashes the past two seasons, renew their fierce rivalry in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament on Wednesday at The Arena in San Juan.
The Red Lions, as usual, have been dominating the competition behind a formidable lineup led by 6-foot-8 Nigerian slotman Ola Adeogun, having lost only once in their first eight games to maintain a firm grip of the leadership.
The same cannot be said of the Knights, who have won just twice in the same span, leaving them stuck in second to last place obviously still reeling from the departure of top big man Raymond Almazan who has left a gaping hole in the middle for the Intramuros-based dribblers.
The teams meet for the first time this season at 4 p.m. on the final day of the first round of competition.
Lions coach Boyet Fernandez says they need to be extra careful against their perennial rivals.
“You would think they’re small, but they’re heart is too big,” Fernandez said of the Knights, whose big men stand just 6’2”. “If they get their acts together, they will be a very strong team.”
They may be poles apart in the 10-team standings, but that hardly matters when two squads that bring out the best in each other face off.
“We all know that when we play Letran, they seem to play their best regardless of what their record is,” Lions star Baser Amer said on the eve of the rematch of the last two Finals. “The game will be tough and it will have a playoff atmosphere.”
For instance, the last time they met, the undersized Knights gave the Lions all they could handle before folding, 96-99, in double overtime in the Filoil Flying V preseason tournament.
The Caloy Garcia-mentored Knights, bannered by Kevin Racal and Mark Cruz, are also coming off heartbreaking defeats to contenders, a 62-63 loss to Arellano and an 82-85 defeat at the hands of Perpetual Help.
The Knights hope to be on the winning end of a close battle this time as they try to end their first round on a positive note.
Perpetual Help (5-3) aims to claim a piece of third spot with Jose Rizal University as the Altas take on resurgent College of St. Benilde (4-4) at 2 o’clock.