SAN Beda remained a ghost that University of Perpetual Help cannot seem to slay.
The Red Lions sustained their postseason mastery of the Altas, hacking out an 81-75 victory in their Final Four encounter on Wednesday at the Mall of Asia Arena to return to the Finals of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.
The hot-starting defending champions, though, had to survive a gallant stand by the Altas, who fought back from 26 points down, before falling short to suffer a third straight semifinal defeat at the hands of the Lions.
The Lions thus booked a ninth straight Finals appearance and moved two wins away from clinching a fifth straight and eighth championship in the last nine years.
“We will not win a championship if we won’t survive Perpetual,” Lions coach Boyet Fernandez said. “Credit to Perpetual, but credit more to my boys for holding on.”
Baser Amer proved steady in the face of the Altas’ amazing fightback, scattering nine of his 17 points in the final frame and conspiring with Anthony Semerad and Jaypee Mendoza to preserve a huge first-half lead.
Left for dead, the Altas showed signs of life in the second half, mounting on a rally behind a suffocating pressure defense and their fearsome foursome of Earl Thompson, Juneric Baloria, Harold Arboleda, and Justine Alano to nudge within single digit in the fourth quarter.
Thompson, the shoo-in MVP, fired 11 of his 20 points in the final frame, while graduating players Baloria, Arboleda, and Alano provided support in their last game for the Las Pinas-based squad.
Baloria capped the Altas’ rally with two free throws that cut the lead to just five points, 75-80, with 19.4 seconds left, before the Lions held on.
In all, the Altas scored 31 points in the final frame, including 20 in the final two minutes to stay within striking distance.
SBC (81) – A. Semerad 18, Amer 17, Adeogun 13, Mendoza 12, Dela Cruz 11, Pascual 6, Koga 2, Tonco 2, Sara 0, Abude 0, D. Semerad 0
UPHSD (75) – Thompson 20, Baloria 20, Arboleda 14, Alano 11, Dagangon 7, Oliveria 2, Jolangcob 1, Dizon 0, Ylagan 0, Bantayan 0, Gallardo 0
Quarterscores: 22-7, 44-18, 55-44, 81-75