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Dogfight looms — Pirates, Red Lions dispute NCAA finals spot

PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF NCAA OLIVER Tagle of San Beda tries to keep the ball away from Mclaude Guadaña and Shawn Umali of Lyceum during their Season 99 NCAA men’s basketball tournament Final Four encounter.

Game today:

(Smart Araneta Coliseum)

3 p.m. — Lyceum vs San Beda


Intensity is expected to soar as Lyceum of the Philippines University and San Beda University figure in a sudden-death duel for the last remaining finals slot in Season 99 National Collegiate Athletic Association men’s basketball tournament today at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.

Action starts at 3 p.m. with both the Pirates and the Red Lions tipped to go hard for a victory that will send them to the best-of-three finals encounter against topseed Mapua University starting next week.

Bannered by Most Valuable Player and Rookie of the Year frontrunner Clint Escamis, the Cardinals made short work of College of Saint Benilde, 78-67, in the other Final Four pairing last Tuesday.

Now, they are taking their sweet time as they await the survivor of the Pirates-Red Lions encounter that is expected to go down the wire due to the tremendous grit, hunger and determination that the players have shown in their first Final Four battle.

Despite finishing the double-round eliminations with the second-best record behind the Cardinals, the Pirates were outplayed and outworked by the Red Lions in their first encounter, leading to a 68-89 loss that completely wiped out their twice-to-beat advantage.

Jacob Cortez, the son of former Philippine Basketball Association star Mike Cortez, shone with 28 points on a sizzling 9-of-11 shooting from the field to keep San Beda’s hopes for their first title since 2018 alive.

The last time the Red Lions were in the finals was four years ago with stars like Calvin Oftana, AC Soberano, Clint Dolinguez and James Kwekuteye carrying the torch under the mentorship of Boyet Fernandez, who now serves as consultant together with prolific coach Norman Black.

San Beda coach Yuri Escueta stressed that they have to further tighten their defensive screws if they want to pull off an earthshaking upset that will send them back to the finals.

“We made our defense our calling card. Yes, Yukien (Andrada) made a run at the end of the elimination and Jacob is playing well, but it’s how we lock in defensively and execute the things we talked about that matters,” Escueta, the former Ateneo de Manila University defense specialist who is in his second year as San Beda mentor, said.

“Knowing Lyceum, they’re going to adjust. We’re going to make our adjustments and let’s have a good game on Friday.”

For the Pirates, it’s all about bouncing back from a humiliating loss.

Lyceum skipper Enoch Valdez said they have to go back to their defense and not force their shots if they want to stand a chance against a very solid team like San Beda.

“We have to regroup again. We had a lot of forced shots, especially me,” said Valdez, who scored 14 points in their first Final Four duel.

“We couldn’t get close to them. We have to defend.”

A victory by the Pirates would send them to their third finals appearance since joining the country’s oldest collegiate league in 2011 while a win by the Red Lions would put them in a finals rematch against the Cardinals for the first time since 1991.

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