LETRAN coach Caloy Garcia was quick to play down the Knights’ 72-76 overtime loss to San Beda in the NCAA men’s basketball eliminations, firmly believing they will inevitably cross paths again down the road with much more at stake — in the finals.
Garcia said he was satisfied with how his team performed on Monday night at The Arena in San Juan and believes this kind of showing is enough for the Knights to get to the championship round no matter who they face in the semifinals.
“Kahit sino naman, if we play the same way we played today, we can win those games,” said Garcia, whose Knights could face University of Perpetual Help, San Sebastian or Emilio Aguinaldo College in the Final Four.
The thrilling match saw the Knights establish control early on, but allowed the three-time defending champion Red Lions to rally from a double-digit deficit and force overtime where they had the last laugh.
“I’m happy with the way we played. There’s nothing to be ashamed of,” a relaxed Garcia said when he appeared before reporters after the Knights’ last game of the elimination round. “We already achieved our goal to get the twice-to-beat.
“And the nice thing is we know we can compete against probably the strongest team in the league.”
The loss, only their fourth in 18 games, forced the Knights to temporarily surrender the top spot to their conquerors, who improved to a 14-3 win-loss record overall. Letran still has a chance to regain the No. 1 spot in a playoff if San Beda loses to Arellano in its last game of the eliminations.
Still, Garcia said the Knights, who failed to duplicate their 74-67 victory over the Red Lions in the first round, wanted to prove something in their second meeting against their archrivals.
“It’s more of pride to play against San Beda because our players want to prove that when we beat San Beda the first time, we can beat them again,” Garcia said. “The only difference in this game was we were more relaxed. I didn’t pressure anybody. I just told everybody to play the way they play.”
Garcia also rued the Knights’ decision-making in some instances late in what was a possible preview of this year’s Finals, among them rookie Rey Nambatac's choice to take a quick shot off an offensive rebound instead of setting up a fresh play when the Knights had a two-point lead late in the extra session.
“There were some parts of the game that we could’ve at least melted down the clock, but we took quick shots. It’s more of learning process lang sa amin,” said Garcia.