3 p.m. Letran vs Saint Benilde
Defending champion Letran College, missing one of its main men, meets an intact Saint Benilde crew in Game 3 for Season 98 National Collegiate Athletic Association basketball, crown today at the Ynares Sports Center in Antipolo.
Minus Fran Yu, who has been suspended for committing a disqualifying foul in Game 2, the Knights of head coach Bonnie Tan troop to the court at 3 p.m. looking very much like a squad that is capable of completing a three-peat, a breakthrough that the school last achieved when Samboy Lim was still around in 1984.
Like Letran, Saint Benilde is also gunning for history as the Blazers aim to snap a title drought stretching back to the year 2000 during the heyday of Sunday Salvacion.
Letran drew first blood on 14 December, 81-75, at the Smart Araneta Coliseum behind Yu, King Caralipio, Brent Paraiso, Louie Sangalang, Tommy Olivarion and Pao Javillonar.
Sangalang looked like a man among boys after tallying a career-high 24 points behind a 10-of-11 shooting clip while also grabbing 10 rebounds for a double-double effort.
But Saint Benilde, led by Most Valuable Player Will Gozum, Migs Oczon, Miggy Corteza, Robi Nayve and Prince Carlos, clawed their way back into championship contention after carving out a 76-71 victory in Game 2 at the Big Dome to force a do-or-die.
With the Blazers’ backs against the wall, Gozum put up MVP numbers, scoring 21 and grabbing 10 boards in an effort to end their misery.
With their team captain suspended, the Knights will have to dig deep one more time.
Tan admits playing without a prime mover in Yu will be extremely disadvantageous but assured everyone that they have made the necessary adjustments.
“Our biggest challenge is playing without our captain ball and our leader Fran Yu. He is our court general in the team,” Tan said.
“It’s hard to lose a player in your rotation but we will find ways to fill in the blanks on who will take over his playing time.”
Despite Letran’s dilemma, Blazers head coach Charles Tiu insists the Taft-based school remains the underdog.
“I still think we’re the underdogs and we have to find a way to outplay them again,” Tiu said.
“For us, we believe we’re going to ride with whoever has the hot hand in the endgame.”