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Pirates preparing for rivals’ ambush

By Jerome Lagunzad

Games Tuesday
(The Arena, San Juan)
12 noon — JRU vs Mapua (J)
2 p.m. — JRU vs Mapua (S)
4 p.m. — San Beda vs Arellano (S)
6 p.m. — San Beda vs Arellano (J)

Lyceum continues to enjoy a panoramic view atop the NCAA seniors basketball tourney following the Pirates’ impressive nine-game sweep of the opening round of the eliminations.

However, third-year coach Topex Robinson is tempering his celebration, clearly aware that the road to the Final Four – and to the Promised Land too – remains rough and rock-strewn, notwithstanding their rivals’ more aggressive plans for an ambush.

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“As much as okay na sana, we still have nine more games to play and it’s something that we should work on,” admitted Robinson, trying to keep his wards on their toes despite already surpassing their woeful 6-12 win-loss performance –just enough for a ninth place finish – last year.

“There’s still a lot of room for improvement for us to become one of the elite teams. Marami pa rin talaga kaming dapat ayusin. Our turnovers are still a problem.”

But few could deny the fact that the Pirates are posing bigger problems for their foes, including the formidable Red Lions of defending champion San Beda whom they also beaten 96-91 in their initial meeting last July 14.

While prized recruit CJ Perez is living up to his lofty billing with solid game-averages of 18.6 points, 5.6 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.6 steals, the Pirates are also getting ample contributions from Cameroon big man Mike Nzeusseu, veterans MJ Ayaay, Wilson Baltazar, Reymar Caduyac and the Marcelino twins – Jaycee and Jayvee.

And at the rate that they’re going, the Pirates are on track to clinch what seems to be an elusive semifinals ticket – and a breakthrough finals appearance since joining the league back in 2011.

“The beauty about this team is we’re 13 to 14 man deep,” stressed Robinson. “When you say beautiful, they’re having fun inside the court and the guys on the bench are excited for their teammates on the court.

“Aside from CJ who is spearheading our team, you appreciate the effort of (Edcor) Marata, Caduyac, and Ayaay. They don’t mind who’s leading (the team), but we’re happy that we’re putting in the effort.”

And the Pirates won’t mind doubling their collective efforts if they intend to realize a cherished dream.

“We really never thought that its going to go this far. But it’s a testament that you have to trust all these players. We make sure that we want to bring inspiration,” said Robinson, who previously reached the semifinal round along with Perez when they were still carrying the colors of San Sebastian in 2013.

With the Pirates now carrying a bigger target on their backs in the decisive second round of play that gets going next week, Robinson couldn’t wait to see how his wards will respond.

“It’s gonna be exciting. It’s gonna be more of us pushing the pedal,” he stressed. “We know San Beda is waiting for us. Letran, San Sebastian are waiting for us. So we have to make sure that we always strive for greatness whoever we’re playing.”