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A dogfight is expected between the favorite San Beda Red Lions and the underdog University of Perpetual Help Altas today as they dispute the other berth in a knockout game of the NCAA Final Four at the Mall of Asia Arena.
The 4 p.m. encounter was arranged after the Altas leaned on Gab Dagangon and the returning Bright Akhuetie to stun the top seed Red Lions, 87-83, last Friday for the school’s first semifinal victory in 12 years.
An inspired Perpetual squad seeks another grindout performance and become the first No. 4 team since the 2000 San Sebastian Stags to enter the finals, while San Beda is determined to extend its streak of finals appearance to 11 years in today’s do-or-die contest.
Playing the role of an interested observer are the Arellano University Chiefs, who earned the first entry into the title round following a 92-80 win over the Mapua Cardinals. The best-of-three finals will start on Thursday.
Dagangon erupted for 27 points, including the go-ahead basket in the dying seconds, while Akhuetie played like a beast in his return from a team-imposed suspension to keep Perpetual alive and level the semis duel with twice-to-beat San Beda.
But Perpetual coach Jimwell Gican is bracing for a much-difficult battle where everything is earned and not given.
“Nagtagumpay kami sa duty namin sa Game 1,” said Gican. “But sabi ko nga its just Game 1, twice-to-beat sila. We need to prepare hard at sana makuha namin.”
Not only Dagangon and Akhuetie will be trusted upon to deliver anew, but also shooter Daryl Singontiko, pesky guard Keith Pido, GJ Ylagan and the team’s second import Prince Eze.
The Red Lions played way below their back-to-back wins over the Chiefs to claim the No. 1 seed, falling behind 21-9 at the start and saw their outside shooting disappear when it mattered.