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Benilde, Letran set dream duel

College of Saint Benilde and Letran College hammered impressive victories to arrange a dream finals showdown in Season 98 National Collegiate Athletic Association men’s basketball tournament on Tuesday at the Filoil EcoOil Centre in San Juan.

The Blazers registered a thrilling 62-61 win over San Beda University to make it to the finals for the first time in 20 years while the Knights pulled off a masterful 67-58 victory over Lyceum of the Philippines University to gain a golden chance to defend the title that they have been holding for the past three years.

Game 1 of their best-of-three finals is set on Sunday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.

Veteran Fran Yu delivered 11 points while King Caralipio chipped in a double-double performance of 10 points and 12 rebounds for the Knights, who displayed their championship composure when the game was on the line.

“Day by day, we’re not thinking of the sweep,” Letran coach Bonnie Tan said.

“We’ll take what we get and we’re happy to be back in the finals.”

He added that they embrace the pressure of the NCAA finals.

“Everyone is ready,” he added.

“In the Final Four, everybody’s pressured to win We expected this to be a physical series.”

But it was the Blazers who drew most of the attention.

Making their first Final Four appearance since reaching its recent Finals in 2002, the topseed Saint Benilde was simply impressive in clobbering San Beda, a powerhouse team that has been a fixture in the semifinals since 2006.

With the Blazers hanging on to a slim 60-56 lead in the crucial stretch of the fourth quarter, James Kwekuteye nailed a corner trey to cut the lead to one, 59-60, only 14.3 seconds left.

Migs Oczon, however, refused to succumb to pressure as he calmly nailed both his free throws with only 12.7 seconds left to stretch the lead to three, 62-59.

Damie Cuntapay tried to revive San Beda’s fading chances with a putback in the final 0.4 seconds, 61-62, but it wasn’t enough as the Blazers started to celebrate.

Saint Benilde coach Charles Tiu said he was happy with how his boys performed.

“I told the team I was happy we made it to the Final Four but for me, the minimum was to make it to the Finals,” said Tiu, who won his first postseason game with Saint Benilde in his second season as head coach.

“The players deserve all the credit. They poured their hearts out in the game.”

Oczon fired 17 points, six rebounds, one assist, one steal and one block while Jimboy Pasturan delivered 16 markers behind a sizzling 6-of-9 shooting from the field for the Blazers.

Season 98 Most Valuable Player frontrunner Will Gozum was also impressive, turning in a double-double performance with 10 points and 11 rebounds for the Blazers, who are looking to end their long title drought.

First game

SAINT BENILDE (62) — Oczon 17, Pasturan 16, Gozum 10, Nayve 8, Corteza 7, Sangco 4, Cullar 0, Carlos 0, Marcos 0, Lepalam 0, Lim 0.

SAN BEDA (61) — Cortez 13, Kwekuteye 11, Bahio 9, Sanchez 8, Ynot 6, Cuntapay 4, Andrada 3, Cometa 3, Alfaro 2, Visser 2, Payosing 0.

QUARTERS: 19-14, 34-31, 54-48, 62-61.

Second game

LETRAN (67) — Yu 11, Caralipio 10, Paraiso 9, Sangalang 9, Javillonar 8, Reyson 7, Olivario 6, Monje 4, Go 3, Ariar 0, Guarino 0.

LYCEUM (58) — Valdez 15, Guadana 14, Bravo 6, Larupay 6, Montano 5, Umali 3, Penafiel 3, Navarro 2, Barba 2, Vinoya 1, Villegas 1, Cunanan 0.

QUARTERS: 13-17, 30-28, 50-45, 67-58.

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