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Depleted Knights battle Red Lions

Games today:
(Filoil EcoOil Centre)
12 p.m. — Mapua vs JRU
3 p.m. — San Beda vs Letran

A depleted Letran College squad will march into battle to face an old rival in San Beda University in Season 98 National Collegiate Athletic Association men’s basketball tournament today at the Filoil EcoOil Centre in San Juan.

Action starts at 3 p.m. with the Knights gunning for a win that will give them a place on top of the team standings of the country’s oldest collegiate league.

Meanwhile, Mapua University aims to arrest its losing skein when it tangles with dangerous Jose Rizal University in the first game at 12 p.m.

Idle College of Saint Benilde and Lyceum of the Philippines University are roaring early as they secured four wins in five matches to share the top spot following a pair of contrasting wins last Wednesday.

The Blazers clobbered Arellano University, 84-72, while the Pirates conquered University of Perpetual Help System Dalta, 82-77, to emerge half-game ahead of the Knights, who are toting a 3-1 win-loss mark in this 10-team tourney.

But securing a place in the ceiling will not be easy for the Knights.

They, for one, will be missing the services of veterans Brent Paraiso and Louie Sangalang, who were slapped with a one-game suspension following their respective infractions during their previous match against the Cardinals last Tuesday.

Paraiso, a transferee from University of Santo Tomas, got sacked due to an unsportsmanlike foul on Adrian Nocum while Sangalang was thrown out after committing two technical fouls in the fourth period of the highly-charged, highly-emotional rematch of last year’s finals showdown.

Worse, they will be facing a San Beda squad that is itching to pull off a win that will not only improve its standing but will also boost their confidence against the reigning champions.

In fact, the last time the Knights and the Lions clashed was in Season 97 in which the boys from Intramuros bannered by Rhenz Abando and Jeo Ambohot sealed a 59-56 win en route to sweeping the entire tourney.

But Abando and Ambohot are no longer around, prompting Letran to bank on holdovers Fran Yu, Kobe Monje, Tomy Olivario and Kurt Reyson against a well-rested San Beda side led by James Kwekuteye, JB Bahio, Damie Cuntapay, Peter Alfaro and Jacob Cortez under new mentor Yuri Escueta.

Letran coach Bonnie Tan admitted that they may be depleted, but they will go hard knowing that the Red Lions will not go down without putting up a serious fight.

“Even if San Beda has a new head coach, the players they were facing are still there from last season. The effort the boys did against Mapua, expect them to double it when they face San Beda,” said Tan, who drew 15 points and the game-winning basket from Yu against Mapua.

“As for our 3-1 record, it’s still too early since we have 18 games this season.”

For San Beda, the only players missing from the Season 97 squad were Rhayyan Amsali, who is taking a basketball sabbatical, and JV Gallego, who underwent a knee surgery during the offseason.

Escueta said the postponement of their game due to a storm last week gave them more time to prepare against their bitter rivals.

“The long break was good for us because we were given more time to prepare and fix our system. We were given more time to rest and heal up some of the guys’ minor injuries,” said Escueta, whose boys carry a 2-2 win-loss card.

“We’re excited to play against our rivals but we don’t want to give too much emphasis on the team playing Letran. We prepared for this so I hope we play well. I don’t want us to do anything unnecessary just because we are playing against Letran. We want to stay true to our system.”

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