By WAYLON GALVEZ
Games Tuesday (Mall of Asia Arena)
1 p.m. – San Beda vs Lyceum (Jrs)
4 p.m. – San Beda vs Letran (Srs)
It was during the 91st season when an underdog Letran squad hoisted the NCAA championship trophy following a stunning victory against archrival San Beda in the do-or-die Game 3.
Four years later, the two teams are again in the same situation.
Defending three-time champion San Beda clashes against the ‘underdog’ Letran in another winner-take-all Game 3 to decide the winner of the NCAA Season 95 Wednesday at the Mall of Asia Arena.
It is a fitting ending to an exciting best-of-three showdown between two proud teams with a long history of animosity that was again magnified in the finals for the coveted title.
The two teams split the first two games – exactly what happened during the 2015 season – with Letran winning Game 1 65-64 last week, then San Beda tied the series with a 79-76 victory in Game 2 last Friday.
That sets the stage for this ‘sudden death’ Game 3 scheduled at 4 p.m. and multitudes of supporters expected to pack the arena to the rafters after more than 18,000 showed up in the previous match, and witness either Letran takes title No. 18 or San Beda continues to add to its record 23rd championship
While it is frustrating what happened in the previous game when the Knights bungled an opportunity to win the game – and the series – after Bonbon Batillier missed a layup late in the fourth period, Knights mentor Bonnie Tan keeps a positive outlook.
“After almost a won game we had in Game 2, the boys had developed much camaraderie and took it as a positive experience in their basketball career,” said Tan yesterday.
“Everything happens for a reason, in the right time. Now they (his players) are prepared, and very hungry for the title,” added Tan, who is in his first finals stint on his very first year with the Knights.
Letran hopes to get the same results from that 2015 title series against San Beda when the Knights downed the Red Lions 85-82 in Game 3, which denied the later a sixth straight championship.
In order to do that, the Knights need a healthy point guard Fran Yu, who stayed on the bench in the final three minutes of Game 2 due to cramps after scoring 23 points on 7-of-13 shooting from the field.
Also, graduating players Jerrick Balanza and Batiller need to deliver, as well as forward Jeo Ambohot and center Larry Muyang, who had 17 points and 10 rebounds the last timeout.
San Beda, for its part, will try to be more consistent come Game 3 after blowing a 15-0 lead early in Game 2, which allowed Letran to get back into match with a big third quarter run behind Yu.
“The previous game was a test of character for us, and I’m very proud that we’re able to overcome that challenge. Now it’s a test of will, whoever wants it more gets the title,” said San Beda mentor Boyet Fernandez.
“I’m confident that after winning Game 2, I know my players are up for another challenge. It’s going to be tough against Letran, but the key is we need to defend well and execute our offense.”
Calvin Oftana, the season MVP and hero in San Beda’s win in Game 2, needs to be aggressive and maintain his form after scoring 17 points – far from his lackluster performance on Game 1 where he had seven points.
Also expected to provide support for Oftana are James Canlas-Kwekuteye, who scored 21 points in Games 2, Evan Nelle, Clint Doliguaz, and Cameroonian import Donald Tankoua.
Meanwhile, the junior’s division title is up for grabs when the San Beda Red Cubs play the Lyceum of the Philippines University Junior Pirates at 1 p.m. after the two teams split the first two games.