MANILA, Philippines – Jose Rizal University (JRU) went to Darius Estrella in the clutch as it slew reigning five-peat champions San Beda, 76-74, to claim the early lead in the high school division of the NCAA Season 90 basketball tournament Sunday at the San Juan Gym.
MJ Dela Vergel threw an alley-oop pass to Estrella off a well-executed backdoor play for the game-winner with 1.8 seconds remaining, sealing the victory for the Light Bombers against the heavily favored Red Cubs.
"I'm proud of the boys. They followed the last play to the letter," said JRU coach Nat Gregorio.
The stunning victory allowed the Light Bombers to avenge their senior counterparts' 49-57 loss at the hands of the San Beda Red Lions in Saturday’s Season 90 inaugurals at the SM Mall of Asia Arena.
San Beda has won five straight championships and is aiming for an unprecedented six-peat, but JRU showed that achieving that feat won’t be easy for the Red Cubs.
"We're beyond happy beating the five-time champions," said Gregorio, who is hoping to make it to the Final Four this year after failing to do so in his five seasons as coach.
Meanwhile, in the seniors division, last year's Final Four entrant Perpetual Help and Mapua will clash, while Lyceum and Arellano University will also collide Monday, as they hope to seize a share of the lead with the opening day winners.
The Altas will be using practically the same line-up that catapulted them into the Final Four in the last two seasons as they battle the Mapua Cardinals at 12 noon, while the Chiefs and the Pirates play in the second game at 2 p.m.
Perpetual coach Aric del Rosario said the Altas have lost import Nosa Omorogbe of Nigeria and starting point guard Chris Elopre, but kept the core of the team that surprised pundits by making the post-season in each of the past two season.
"Everyone is looking at us as a title challenger because we have an intact line-up," said Del Rosario. "We hope we could live up to it."
Perpetual Help will be up against a Mapua team looking to bounce back from its worst finish in years – a last place effort a year ago which saw them win only twice in 18 games.
"All I can promise s we will win more games," said Mapua coach Atoy Co, setting a modest goal for his team.
Arellano, for its part, is bringing in new coach Jerry Codinera, who came in to take over from Koy Banal with the hopes of steering the Chiefs to their first-ever Final Four stint since entering the NCAA five years ago.
Lyceum coach Bonnie Tan, for his part, is optimistic of their chances after also retaining last season's core while adding 6-foot-6 big man Essono Mbida from Cameroon.
"There are still rooms for improvement, but we're more confident this year than the last," said Tan.