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Lions banking on semis experience

San Beda University will bank on its playoff experience when it competes in the Final Four of Season 98 National Collegiate Athletic Association men’s basketball tournament on Tuesday.

Red Lions head coach Yuri Escueta said that their semifinals experience will serve as their biggest edge against top seed College of Saint Benilde, which will be making its first Final Four appearance in more than two decades.

San Beda will be entering the Final Four without a twice-to-beat advantage after finishing the eliminations fourth with a 12-6 win-loss record.

Lyceum of the Philippines University also wound up with 12-6 but took the third seed after sweeping the Red Lions in the elimination round.

The Pirates will battle reigning champion Letran College in the semifinals.

“We still think the guys have a lot of experience playing in a lot of postseason games. That’s something I’d like to think as our biggest advantage,” Escueta said right after their Sunday practice.

“They’ve been in this situation last season so we can say that they’re already familiar with it. For me, we’re just making sure that they take it one game at a time and believe in themselves.”

Last season, San Beda also made the Final Four without a twice-to-beat bonus.

The Red Lions, however, pulled off a stunner when they shocked Mapua University in overtime, 73-67, forging a sudden-death battle for the right to face the Knights in the best-of-three finals series.

But their luck ran out as the Cardinals escaped with a thrilling 70-67 victory to advance to the finals for the first time in 27 years.

Now, the San Beda crew of James Kwekuteye, JB Bahio, Peter Alfaro, Tony Ynot and Jacob Cortez are determined to get back to the Finals and reclaim the crown they last won in 2018.

Escueta said he hopes the boys will be able to knock down their open looks against a very disciplined and dangerous Blazers side.

“Last game we had open shots but we’re missing them. We don’t want to put the burden on James and Bahio. We want them to make good decisions and see whoever the open guy is,” Escueta said, thanking the San Beda community for its all-out support.

“It’s very heartwarming to see the San Beda community support us. Hearing them cheer gives the players a lot of confidence and energy.”

Kwekuteye said he and Bahio are planning to go all out to win the title in their final year for the Red Lions.

“I’m very excited. This means a lot to me. This is the last year for me and Bahio,” Kwekuteye said.

“All I got to say is that I want my teammates to lock in the last two games until we get to the finals and just embrace the moment.”

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