Mapua turned back La Salle-Greenhills, 88-81, to clinch the first finals berth even as Arellano U pulled the rug from under reigning seven-peat champion San Beda, 89-84, to force a sudden death for the other berth in the 92nd NCAA basketball tournament at the MOA Arena in Pasay City yesterday.
Will Gozum, a transferee from University of Philippines Intergrated School, stepped up big in the absence of Sherwin Concepcion, who suffered a season-ending right shoulder injury late in the second round, by powering his way to 16 points, six rebounds and three blocks to lead the Red Robbins to their second finals stint in the last three seasons.
“We’ve made some adjustments since he (Concepcion) got injured and I’m happy that Gozum has taken the responsibility,” said Mapua coach Randy Alcantara, who lost to San Beda in the 2014 Finals before failing to make it that far last year after a loss to Arellano in the Final Four.
Mapua will face the winner between San Beda and Arellano U in the finals set to start on Oct. 6.
Facing elimination, the Braves battled their way back from a 17-point deficit and went to Jayson Danas in the stretch as they forced a knockout duel on Tuesday for a spot in the best-of-three championships.
Danas, 19, scored six of his 10 points in the final 1.19 minutes to deal the biggest blows.
It was Arellano’s second win in three games against San Beda this season.
Interestingly, it was also the Braves who dealt the Cubs their only loss a year go.
“We’re the only team that can beat San Beda, all the other teams have given up finding a way to beat them,” said Arellano U coach Tylon Darjuan. “And since we’re here, we might as well go for it.”
Lars Sunga led the team with 16 points while Guilmer dela Torre, Aaron Fermin and Carlo Abadeza chipped in 15, 15 and 14, respectively.