17th winner will be 'the winningest'
MANILA, Philippines - San Beda and Letran set out for the NCAA finals beginning tomorrow, upbeat of their respective chances with both teams seeking not just the championship but the bragging rights as the most titled team in league history.
The Red Lions and the Knights carry a rich winning tradition in the country's oldest collegiate league with 16 championships apiece, making the upcoming series a duel to watch.
"It's a bonus and extra motivation for us," said league Management Committee chair Fr. Vic Calvo, OP, of Season 88 host Letran in yesterday PSA Forum at Shakey’s Malate.
"It's not just the basketball team nor the players and the coaches anymore, it's about the school and league tradition and the bragging rights of becoming the most titled school in the NCAA that we're playing for," Calvo said.
Meanwhile, the league remains undecided whether or not to push through with its Game One at MOA Arena because of its contract with Smart-Araneta Coliseum.
"Ncaa tickets for finals: just wait til 6 p.m. Mancom will meet for exact venue and date of finals. Certain things are outside of our control," said Calvo on Twitter account @victor88calvo.
San Beda, which turned back Perpetual Help, 56-52, in the Final Four at the Big Dome to reach the finals for the seventh straight year, swept Letran in the double round elims and has been installed as the favorites in the best-of-three series.
But SBC team manager Jude Roque has opted to downplay their chances.
"Although we beat them twice, it doesn't mean anything. Letran is on an eight-game winning streak," said Roque.
San Beda’s big man, Olaide Adeogun, agreed with the San Beda official, saying that neither team enjoys a distinct advantage over the other.
"They're a different team now, they're no longer the same team we defeated before," said Adeogun.
Letran, which overcame San Sebastian’s twice-to-beat edge with a 92-74 rout last Saturday and a scrambling 73-70 win last Monday, is making its first finals appearance since gaining a crack at the championship five years ago, eventually losing to San Beda.
The Knights are out to beat the Lions for the first time in a span of 14 games, their last victory over the Mendiola-based cagers coming in five years ago when Rey Guevarra's dunk on Nigerian Sam Ekwe lifted Letran to a 70-69 come-from-behind triumph.
"We worked hard for this. We will die with our boots on," said Fr. Calvo.
Letran's assistant coach, Tino Pinat, said while the Knights should be considered the underdogs, it will be very hard to predict the outcome of the series.
"We didn't expect to be here and just the chance of being in the finals is already an achievement. We were at the tailend early in the season," he said.
"We've faced this team before but obviously we are the underdogs. But this is a battle between the winningest teams in the NCAA," said the former Knight.
Kevin Alas, who helped carry Letran to the finals, agreed that they are the underdogs but said in the finals, anything can happen.
"Everybody knows we're the underdogs. But we will be there fighting," said Alas, who was joined in the forum presented by Smart, Shakey’s, and the Philippine Amusements and Gaming Corporation, by teammates Mark Cruz and Jam Cortes.