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Unheralded bets shine in side events

By Jerome Lagunzad

Struggling teams in the 93rd NCAA seniors basketball tourney earned something to cheer about yesterday.

Members of cellar-dwelling Mapua, Perpetual Help and Arellano University put on quite a show as they took turns in ruling the side events of the fourth NCAA All-Star showcase at The Arena in San Juan City.

The Cardinals completed a double kill, with comebacking guard JP Nieles sustaining the team’s dominance in the Skills Challenge and underrated guard Almel Orquina clinching the Three Point Shootout title in stunning fashion.

Not to be outdone was highly athletic Chiefs big man Lervin Flores who finally bagged what seemed to be an elusive Slam Dunk crown while the Altas’ troika of senior player GJ Ylagan, junior stalwart Jielo Razon and former standout Gerald Dizon ruled the Shooting Stars competitions.

Those achievements in the mid-season spectacle could provide a perfect tonic for the three teams currently running at the lower half of the 10-team field, with the second round of eliminations set to unfold starting on Tuesday.

With reigning titlist Yankie Haruna of St. Benilde out due to an injury, the lefty Flores pounced on the golden chance as he converted an awe-inspiring tomahawk dunk while jumping over the bunch of guest judge Empoy Marquez, TV host Andrei Felix and fellow aspirant Renato Ular of Letran that earned him a perfect 50 in the final round.

“Wala si Yankie kaya grinab ko na lang ‘yugn opportunity” admitted Flores, who even performed a backflip after completing a reverse dunk off the bounce in the opening round, good enough for 45 points, to the delight of the seizable crowd.

“Pinaghandaan ko talaga ‘yung laban ngayong taon,” added the second-year Arellano big man who upstaged Blazers’ Justine Gatang and Ular in the finals. “Nilakasan ko na lang rin ‘yung loob ko sa final round. Pina-practice ko na rin naman ‘yung routine na ‘yun.”

Also earning a share of the spotlight was the diminutive Nieles, who marked his sustained recovery from an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury in his right knee that sidelined him last season by defending the throne vacated by his former Mapua teammate Darrell Menina.