Filed Under: Basketball, NCAA, San Beda Red Lions, San Sebastian Stags, JRU Heavy Bombers, Mapua Cardinals
MANILA, Philippines—Defending champion San Sebastian clashes with San Beda for the first time since their highly emotional championship duel last season in the 86th NCAA basketball tournament Wednesday.
Sporting unblemished 7-0 records, the Stags and Lions collide at 4 p.m. before an expected sellout crowd at the FilOil Flying V Arena in San Juan.
It will be the toughest test yet for both teams, which have been a cut above the rest in the nine-team league.
“We’re expecting a tough, very intense game,” said San Sebastian coach Ato Agustin.
“We’ll be prepared for them. We know we just can’t relax against a very strong team like San Beda.”
San Sebastian swept San Beda in their best-of-three championship series last year and the memory of that loss still stings the Lions, who have bolstered their roster with highly-touted rookies.
“We’re excited to play San Sebastian,” said San Beda coach Frankie Lim. “I feel we have a stronger chance now.”
The two-time NCAA champion coach believes his team has the bench depth to match up with the Stags, who have shown signs of vulnerability in some of their games in the elimination-round.
“We should play with a lot of heart and determination to beat them. I told my boys that it will never be easy beating them. Just leave everything on that floor and good things will happen,” Lim added.
The league is selling separate tickets for the San Beda-San Sebastian game and the other seniors match pitting Mapua and Jose Rizal U, which was moved to the 10 a.m. schedule to give way to the San Sebastian-San Beda juniors tiff at 2 p.m.
The first seniors match is a perfect aperitif for the Lions-Stags clash. Both Mapua and JRU are tied with 5-2 records and their combined four losses were dealt by San Beda and San Sebastian.
While the winner of the Lions-Stags duel will take the lead in the standings, the Cardinals-Bombers tiff is for solo third place.
San Beda has looked the most formidable this season, but they needed to produce sterling efforts in the second half of their past two games against Arellano and St. Benilde to come away with victories.
“We can’t afford a slow start against San Sebastian,” said Lim, who boasts of blue-chip rookies Anthony and David Semerad and former RP youth standouts Jaypee Mendoza and California-based 6-5 Kyle Pascual and University of the East transferee Jess Villahermosa.
Left without a go-to-guy following the departure of last year’s finals MVP Jimbo Aquino, San Sebastian has struggled to put away opponents convincingly even with the duo of Calvin Abueva and Ronald Pascual.
“But they’re not the defending champions for nothing,” said Lim.