Lateran ran into an armed opposition with a strong desire to prove himself worthy of the championship when Mapua climbed to the top of that confidence only to have his hopes shattered in the end.
To claim the NCAA Season 97 men’s basketball crown, Letran Knights will bring the lesson of that super tight win against the Mapua Cardinals in Game 2 of their title series on Sunday.
“We are expecting another tough game against them (the Cardinals). We expect physicality because it’s a championship, “said Latron coach Bonnie Tan.
“But this is the game we’ve been waiting for. Let’s not waste all our sacrifices in the last two months, “Tan added.
The Knights blew the heart of a champion in the opening victory of that narrow 68-63 series using PBA-limited Geo Ambot and veterans Brent Paraiso, King Caralipio, Allen Mina and Fran U using their experienced smarts that took them to the pinnacle of retention. Second NCAA Trophy in a row.
Ahead for most of the match, the Cardinals saw their advantage melt in the last 45 seconds when Ambot’s floater finally led the Knights.
Mapua finally shot himself in the leg the rest of the way.
The Knights remain unbeaten after sweeping the nine-game elimination, booting Altas in the final four, and the first meeting of the top-three title fight.
“We think about the potential sweep and the enemy we will face. We consider each game a championship game, “said Tan.
After a bad fall in the middle of the third quarter and an injury to his left ankle, the status of the most valuable player of the season, the award-winning Range Abando, remains uncertain.
Abando must be in the spotlight even though he got his two big personal trophies before the match. Members of the Mythical Five Selection are also receiving their trophies: Abando, Ambohot, Arelano Bigman, Justin Arana, San Sebastian’s Power Forward JM Kalma and St. Benil’s Will Gozum.
“If your top player gets injured, that’s a concern for any team. But it’s a challenge for other players if he (Abando) can’t play, “said Tan.
The Cardinals relied heavily on their outdoor shooting in Game 1, the same weapon they wanted to use, where the responsibility for firing fell on the shoulders of Paolo Hernandez, Brian Lacap, Adrian Nkum, Toby Augustine and Jericho Pido.
“We have to bounce again and force another game. To do that, we have to play a solid defense for 40 minutes, “said Mapua coach Randy Alcantara, who led the Cardinals to the final for the first time in 31 years.
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