By Jerome Lagunzad
3:30 p.m. – San Beda vs Lyceum
(Game 1, Best-of-3 Finals)
For traditional powerhouse San Beda, it’s all about sustaining its rich winning culture. For emerging power Lyceum, it’s all about maximizing its truest potential.
The Red Lions, the reigning titleholders, square off with the Pirates, the worthy challengers, in the opener of their best-of-three titular showdown for the NCAA seniors basketball crown.
San Beda, fresh from a 76-71 conquest of host San Sebastian in their knockout battle last Tuesday, will come in to the 3:30 p.m. battle with ample confidence while Lyceum hopes to take advantage of its fresher legs from a 22-day respite after wielding the big broom in the 18-game elimination round.
While the Pirates are standing on an unfamiliar territory since they will make their finals debut since joining the league in 2009, the Red Lions are back in the big stage for the 12th straight time, eager to add another jewel to their league-best haul of 20 titles.
“It’s gonna be a good fight,” said Lyceum coach Topex Robinson, who served as a TV analyst when San Beda bundled out San Sebastian the last time out. “We know that they are the defending champions and they’re the ones who have the stronger team. I’m sure it’s gonna be a good game.”
While they have plenty of experience, the Red Lions are considered by many as the slight underdogs since they fell prey to the relentless Pirates in their elimination round.
Instead of being rattled, San Beda coach Boyet Fernandez, already a two-time NCAA champion, is relishing the daunting task at hand. “Right now Lyceum is the best team because they beat us twice. So underdog kami. But again, we’ll find a way to win. We will be ready,” he assured.
Fernandez and the Red Lions can only expect the same from the Pirates. “My job as the coach is to put them in the right frame of mind. Nandun ‘yung excitement and given naman ‘yung feelings na nararamdaman namin, but its matter of channeling it to positivity,” said Robinson.
“We’re more excited than kinakabahan. We know its our first time to be in this level and it’s really an unchartered territory for us. But rather than being takot, we should be excited. We know that we got nothing to lose and were happy where we are. We know we wanted to be in finals and we did everything in the best way that we can.”
Prolific wingman CJ Perez, the leading MVP candidate, is expected to lead the way anew alongside Cameroonian big man Mike Nzeusseu, talented forwards MJ Ayaay, Reymar Caduyac, and the Marcelino twins—Jaycee and Jayvee—for a Pirates crew thriving mostly on a relentless scoring attack.
Heady playmaker Robert Bolick, do-it-all big man Javee Mocon and fast-recovering Cameroonian Donald Tankoua should set the tone for a Red Lions unit which gets the job done usually by employing a sustained defensive pressure.
“It’s obvious that they’re determined to win. At the end of the day, they’re the stronger team and they have more experience than us. They have a good group of guys that are motivated to show that they are the defending champions.”
said Robinson, trying his best to play down their role as the perceived favorites.