WHETHER Arellano’s hot start in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament is a fluke or not will be determined on Saturday when reigning champion San Beda tests its mettle at The Arena in San Juan.
Always in the middle of the pack the previous seasons, the Chiefs have surprisingly found themselves sharing the lead at this early juncture after winning their first two games under new coach Jerry Codiñera.
But they face an acid test in the four-time defending title holders Red Lions, who have likewise begun the season with three straight victories by flashing their familiar, dominant form.
Tipoff for the lone seniors’ matchup is at 2:30 p.m. with both teams aiming to keep their unbeaten slates intact and solidify their lofty perches in the standings.
“They’re a smart team, very talented, grabe `yung chemistry,” said Codiñera, who is trying to lead the Chiefs to a breakthrough Final Four appearance in the country’s oldest collegiate league. “I hope we just put up a good fight.”
But the Chiefs are riding the momentum of an 80-73 triumph over Emilio Aguinaldo College last Monday as the Legarda-based dribblers play their second game this week.
“At least may pondo na kami ng kumpiyansa,” said Codiñera, who has drawn strength from guards Nard Pinto and Jiovani Jalalon along with promising American big man Dioncee Holts. “Sana wag mabawasan.”
The Chiefs face stiff competition from the Lions, who, apart from being bannered by Ola Adeogun, Baser Amer, and Anthony Semerad, also welcome back Art dela Cruz to the fold after the versatile forward served out a one-game suspension.
The Lions put the clamps on a fast-paced Lyceum Pirates with an 84-68 decision just last Wednesday and the Mendiola-based cagers expect the same up-tempo style of play from the Chiefs.
“The game was a prelude for our game against Arellano,” Lions coach Boyet Fernandez said. “Arellano’s a very, very strong team in terms of fastbreaks. It will be our main focus.”