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Wild race for last 2 F4 slots

By Jerome Lagunzad

Games Tuesday
(The Arena, San Juan City)
12 noon – Perpetual vs San Beda (Jrs)
2 p.m. – Perpetual vs San Beda (Srs)
4 p.m. – St. Benilde vs JRU (Srs)
6 p.m. – St. Benilde vs JRU (Jrs)

There’s only three weeks left in the elimination round of the 93rd NCAA seniors basketball tournament and the race for the last two Final Four berths could only get tighter.

While pacesetting Lyceum and defending champion San Beda are already assured of the Top 2 spots that dangle twice-to-beat advantages in the semifinals, six other teams are still in the running for the two remaining spots.

Jose Rizal University, bidding to make it back to semis after missing the trip last year, has an inside track, with the Heavy Bombers currently occupying the third spot with an 8-6 mark ahead of a tricky stretch.

JRU is favored to assert its will against also-ran St. Benilde on Tuesday but will have its hands full against host San Sebastian, one of the teams in contention, on Friday.

Cellar-dwelling Mapua Cardinals should be a fitting warm-up for the Heavy Bombers on Oct./ 10 before they take on the Pirates three days after.

Keeping their focus collectively appears to be the Heavy Bombers’ main priority, admitted long-time coach Vergel Meneses. “We’re not in (the Final Four) yet. We cannot be complacent. Anything can still happen. We need to take care of our own business,” he said.

Letran, the 2015 titleholder, is back in the “Magic Four” with an 8-6 mark but Knights coach Jeff Napa admitted a tough work remains cut out for them in their bid to clinch a semis ticket which they failed to do last year.

“Medyo mabigat ‘yung papasukin namin,” he said, referring to their back-to-back testy encounters with Lyceum on Friday and archrival San Beda on October 13 before closing out its campaign against St. Benilde on October 17.

“Nasa amin na ngayon kung paano namin iha-handle ‘yun. Maraming dasal ang kakailanganin namin pero positibo pa rin ako as long as we play our A-game.”

The Golden Stags, despite absorbing a 78-73 loss dealt by the Pirates last Friday, are still in the thick of the fight with an even 7-7 record at fifth spot. And a relatively light schedule could help them sneak their way in.