COLLEGE of St. Benilde are out to establish a new identity in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, but the Blazers are set to take on an opponent that dealt them the loss that defined their season last year.
The Blazers have unfortunately earned the tag as the league’s heartbreak kids following a series of close defeats since last season, including a gut-wrenching 70-71 loss at the hands of San Beda on that fateful opening day last year.
On Monday, the Blazers face the Red Lions for the first time this year.
“Malaking bagay `yung nangyari sa amin last year,” Blazers coach Gabby Velasco admitted ahead of the rematch set at 2 p.m. at The Arena in San Juan. “Hopefully this is going to be a different story this year - not for the worse, but for the better.”
The Blazers (2-3) are riding the momentum of a two-game winning surge, including a 79-72 victory over Mapua last Friday. But the Taft-based dribblers are facing a mighty Lions side that is also seeking to sustain its dominance in the league.
The Lions are the only undefeated team remaining with five victories and an average winning margin of 18.6 points. And that’s mainly due to a vaunted defense that allows opposition just 61.1 points per game.
San Beda coach Boyet Fernandez still remembers the Blazers’ opener last year, which set their bid for a fourth straight title in motion.
“We nearly lost that first game, so it’s a lesson for us,” Fernandez said. “We just hope we can match their intensity like last year.”
The Blazers boast a prolific wing trio in Mark Romero, Paolo Taha, and Jonathan Grey, but would need to get solid production from their role players for them to stand a chance against the defending champions.
“We have to be smart and play with so much energy against this team,” Velasco said. “We’ll just do our best and hope we’ll have a chance in the end.”
San Sebastian tries to keep its place in the upper echelon of the standings when it takes on Mapua in the second game at 4 p.m.
The Golden Stags are tied for fourth spot with Perpetual Help with similar 3-2 records and hope to move up against the hapless Cardinals, who have yet to register in the win column after six matches.