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Blazers, Pirates collide as NCAA wars begin

Gozum was ejected in Game 3 of the finals last year, giving him a one-game suspension after headbutting Pao Javillonar.

Games today:

(Mall of Asia Arena)

2 p.m. — Opening Ceremonies

3 p.m. — JRU vs Letran

5:30 p.m. — Lyceum vs Saint Benilde


Last year’s finalist College of Saint Benilde locks horns with Lyceum of the Philippines when Season 99 National Collegiate Athletic Association men’s basketball formally opens at the Mall of Asia today.

The Blazers and the Pirates are set to clash at 5:30 p.m. in the second game of the day’s hostilities.

An opening ceremony will be held first at 2 p.m. followed by the opening match between defending champion Letran College and host Jose Rizal University at 3 p.m.

The Knights, who completed a historic three-peat last year, will be playing without Fran Yu, Brent Paraiso, Louie Sanggalang and Season 98 Finals Most Valuable Player King Caralipio, who have all graduated.

New Letran head coach Rensy Bajar, who replaced head coach Bonnie Tan, will now bank on veteran guard Kurt Reyson and transferee Deo Cuajao as the Intramuros-based dribblers attempt to dispose of the Heavy Bombers.

“We all know that JRU is a formidable team. Everytime we play against JRU, we expect a competitive team and I hope this game will be good and we make the students of Letran happy,” Bajar said.

But all eyes will be on Saint Benilde and Lyceum, who made it to the postseason last year.

The Blazers broke a 20-year finals drought after taking the No. 1 seed with a 14-4 win-loss record in the elimination round and utilized their twice-to-beat advantage to knock out San Beda University, 62-61, in the Final Four but fell short to Letran in the best-of-three championship series.

Saint Benilde also appointed former Gilas Pilipinas head coach Rajko Toroman as a team consultant, giving the Taft-based team a different coaching perspective.

Despite having a solid core made up of team captain Robi Nayve, Migz Oczon, Miggy Corteza and Macoy Marcos, Blazers head coach Charles Tiu will be approaching the game with caution with league MVP Will Gozum suspended for the first game.

Gozum was ejected in Game 3 of the finals last year, giving him a one-game suspension after headbutting Pao Javillonar.

“For me, there’s a little bit of concern. One is that Gozum won’t play in this game because of his one-game suspension. Second, we haven’t been playing well in our preseason games but hopefully, the guys will be able to focus since Lyceum was a Final Four team last season,” Tiu said.

“For the fans, they expect a high-scoring game and we’re just excited to play on opening day,” he added.

Pirates head coach Gilbert Malabanan knows his team will be in for a rough ride and like Tiu, he expects both teams to go all out to get their first win of the season.

“In sports, every team wants to win. Expect our team will be ready,” said Malabanan, who will lean on Lyceum star Enoch Valdez.

“The match against Saint Benilde will be exciting,” he added.

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