(Smart Araneta Coliseum)
3 p.m. — Letran vs Saint Benilde
Reigning champion Letran College seeks to make history as it hopes to finish off College of Saint Benilde in Game 2 of their National Collegiate Athletic Association Season 98 men’s basketball tournament best-of-three finals series today at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Game time is at 3 p.m. with the Knights tipped to go all out to win the title and register its first three-peat since basketball great Samboy Lim led them to a triple crown in 1984.
A victory will also make the Knights the only NCAA team to win back-to-back crowns in the same year as the abbreviated Season 97 ended only last May due to health and safety protocols.
But prior the battle, the league will honor Will Gozum of Saint Benilde as Most Valuable Player.
Gozum, who had a forgettable stint at University of the Philippines before finding redemption at Saint Benilde, posted averages of 17.17 points, 9.61 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game during the elimination round in which the Blazers finished with 14 wins in 18 games to emerge as the top seed in the Final Four.
Still, spotlight will be trained on the Knights.
In Game 1, the championship form of rugged, hardworking Letran squad was in full display as it bullied its way to an 81-75 victory to inch closer to the title and frustrate the young Blazers who are playing in the finals for the first time in 20 years.
Compounding the Blazers’ woes is the possible absence of age gunner Migs Oczon who suffered an ankle injury after stepping on Kyle Tolentino’s foot in the first quarter of Game 1.
Tolentino, however, was slapped with a one-game suspension along with Kobe Monje, who was slapped with a disqualifying foul after elbowing Macoy Marcos.
Another vital cog in Pao Javillonar escaped sanction as the league only reprimanded him for his infamous butt-pinching incident with Gozum.
Although Letran is already a heartbeat away from its 20th men’s basketball title, its coach in Bonnie Tan refused to look past Game 2 knowing that it will only add to the pressure of his boys.
“As for the possibility of winning three-peat, we’re aren’t talking about it,” said the veteran mentor, who also sits as team manager of NorthPort in the Philippine Basketball Association.
“We want to focus on one game at a time and we don’t want to add more pressure to the team by comparing us to previous Letran teams.”
Tan said they will march to Game 2 with laser-like focus knowing that one mistake could doom their mission of clinching three straight titles.
“We just have to focus on our business here,” he said.
Blazers coach Charles Tiu admitted that the odds are stacked against them, but they have to go all out to extend the series and forge a winner-take-all Game 3 next Sunday at the Ynares Center in Antipolo.
From there, anything can happen.
“Well, it’s win or go home. All we ask is to leave them all on the floor, and try to give our veterans one more game,” said Tiu, who will rely on Gozum, Jimboy Pasturan, Robi Nayve Miggy Corteza and JC Cullar in the possible absence of Oczon.
“Next game, I want them to calm down a bit more because they were too aggressive. I try to encourage them and tell them we can compete with this Letran team.”