By Jerome Lagunzad
Games Today (Mall of Asia Arena)
11 a.m. – San Beda vs La Salle-Greenhills (Jrs)
1 p.m. – Mapua vs Letran (Jrs)
3 p.m. – San Sebastian vs Jose Rizal (Srs)
San Sebastian coach Egay Macaraya and the Golden Stags finally found a way to shrug off what they considered a “jinx” by reaching the playoff round for the first time in the last four years.
They are hoping they could do the same against the well-rested Jose Rizal Heavy Bombers today when they figure in a knockout battle at the start of the step-ladder semifinals in the 93rd NCAA seniors basketball tourney at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Tip off is at 3 p.m., with host San Sebastian out to ride the momentum of a morale-boosting 74-69 victory over Letran last Tuesday for the fourth and final playoff spot, thanks to the career-best 36-point explosion of top forward Michael Calisaan.
However, the Golden Stags are expecting nothing less than an all-out war with the Heavy Bombers who are coming off a two-week break after finishing the double-round eliminations at No. 3 overall.
JRU should come in as odds-on favorite since it swept its head-to-head matchup with San Sebastian, with the Heavy Bombers foiling the Golden Stags, sans a suspended Calisaan, on their home floor, 73-62, last Aug. 24 before following it up with a close 60-58 call early this month.
But Macaraya, 56, is unfazed, saying his wards can come up with a better outcome this time.
“This is different now and we’re in the Final Four. The boys want to be here and they want to go all the way to the championship. Hopefully it will be a different ball game,” he said.
The 6-foot-3 Calisaan is hoping to have the same brilliance he had against the Knights as he’s expected to have his hands full against the Heavy Bombers’ veteran frontcourt led by pro-bound Ervin Grospe aside from African imports Abdoul Pouotouchi and AbdulWahab AdbulRazak.
Guards Ryan Costelo and Enzo Navarro, along with wingmen Allyn Bulanadi, Jayson David, and big man JM Calma, are tipped to provide the usual lift on both ends for the all-Filipino Golden Stags.
“Our number one concern is wala kaming import, and medyo maliit talaga kami. But hindi mo kasi matatanggal ‘yung puso nila, ‘yung character, at ‘yung desire to win. They deserve to be here,” said Macaraya.
Standing in their way are the Heavy Bombers’ solid backcourt built around top gunner Teytey Teodoro, Jed Mendoza, Mark dela Virgen, and Gio Lasquety.
“We need to play our A-game. The boys know what’s at stake and it’s just a matter of getting the job done,” said JRU coach Vergel Meneses, who is making his fifth playoffs appearance since taking over the post from Ariel Vanguardia in 2010.