Games Today(MoA Arena)1:30 p.m. — Mapua vs CSB3:30 p.m. — LPU vs San Beda
FROM 10, it is now just down to four in the race for the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Season 99’s holy grail — the senior basketball title.
Mapua and Lyceum of the Philippines University (LPU) will try to cut it further down to two as they battle College of St. Benilde (CSB) and San Beda, respectively, in today’s NCAA Final Four start and set up a title showdown to remember at the MoA Arena.
The Cardinals and the Pirates are the closest to the finals having gained the vital twice-to-beat semifinal bonus for finishing first and second with a 15-3 and 13-5 record, respectively in the double-round elimination.
The Mapua-CSB clash is at 1:30 p.m. while the LPU-San Beda duel is at 3:30 p.m. A second and deciding match, if necessary, is on Friday at the same venue.
But if and when the Cardinals and the Pirates win, they will advance to next week’s best-of-three finale where the former will have a shot at a first championship since winning it all 32 years ago and seventh overall and the latter a crack at a historic crown.
Mapua will have in its fold one of the league’s deepest and most balanced rosters headed by the ultra versatile Clint Escamis, who is expected to run away with the Most Valuable Player crown won last year by the very same rival the Cardinals will face in the semis — Will Gozum.
Interestingly, Escamis and Gozum were former Mapua high school teammates and then under current Cardinals coach Randy Alcantara.
“I’m happy they’re succeeding,” said Alcantara referring to Escamis and Gozum. “Pero ang focus namin is this Final Four, kailangang mag trabaho at magsikap pa kami ulit.”
While LPU will come in as a prohibitive favorite, San Beda will have in its hand a potential trump card it could use against the former in the Final Four—the Lions routed the Pirates, 74-56, in their last meeting a week ago.
“Patayan na, playoffs na iyan,” said San Beda coach Yuri Escueta. “Of course, I’m expecting it will be tougher, especially galing sila sa talo sa amin. We have to be ready for that effort and energy that they would bring.”
CSB bench tactician Charles Tiu likewise has shown optimism the Blazers could pull the rug out from under fancied Mapua.
“We’ve prepared hard for this game and hopefully we can rise up to the occasion,” he said. — Joey Villar