College of Saint Benilde finds the road leading to a twice-to-beat edge littered with landmines when it plays San Beda University as competition in Season 98 National Collegiate Athletic Association basketball tournament intensifies at the Filoil EcoOil Centre.
A win in the 3 pm match will give the Blazers the coveted bonus in the Final Four and will shut the door on the Red Lions’ aspirations of taking one of the two twice-to-beat berths.
Defending champion Letran College and Saint Benilde tote identical 13-4 records while San Beda is close behind with a 12-5 ledger. Lyceum University of the Philippines makes up the semis roster with a 12-6 record.
Saint Benilde beat San Beda the first time they met, 78-69 and is favored to repeat.
If the Lions pull it off again, it will only have to wait for tomorrow’s Letran-Jose Rizal University duel before finding out which fancied team gets the top billing.
But if the Knights prevail opposite the Chiefs, the Intramural-based squad gets the No. 1 and the Taft-based team slides to second.
San Beda will then have to settle for fourth and Lyceum take third spot.
But if the the league’s gravitational pull somehow goes out of whack and San Beda upsets Saint Benilde and also-ran Jose Rizal does the same thing to Letran, a tiebreak will have to be applied to determine the seedings.
This is the situation that Blazers taskmaster Charlies Tiu would like to avoid.
“If we win, we go outright to at least second and we know that is such a big advantage. You see how good the teams are in the Final Four,” said Tiu, who is in his second year calling the shots.
Another scenario Tiu doesn’t cherish looking at is a San Beda victory and a Letran win (over Arellano) since that would compel the Blazers to play the Red Lions in a playoff for the No. 2 spot since the two will have similar 13-5 slates and Letran a 14-4 mark at the close of the eliminations.
“Not going through that extra game would do wonders and we also need some rest so that one-week gap between the games will be big for us so we really want to go all-out in this game,” Tiu said.
To prevent such freakish scenario from taking place, the Blazers will have to whip San Beda again and main man Will Gozum will play a big role in that bid.
Gozum, a strong candidate for MVP honors, almost posted a double-double when the Blazers downed Arellano, 83-73, after grabbing ten rebounds and hitting just nine points.
“He’s minus five in the game and I don’t know if he’s tired or what but I guess even the best players have off games sometimes. I hope he bounces back because we’ll be playing a much stronger opponent on Tuesday,” added Tiu.
Even if Gozum struggles, Tiu still has Robi Nayve, Mark Sangco and Mis Ozcon to lean on.
San Beda head coach Yuri Escueta knows facing Saint Benilde would mean they will have to be at their optimum.
“We’ll try our best in stopping Oczon but he won’t just be the one we need to look out for in Saint Benilde. Gozum and Nayve are still there,” said Escueta, who drew 15 points from Jacob Cortez in the Red Lions’ 70-61 win over JRU last Saturday.
Saint Benilde and San Beda have won their last three assignments.