MANILA, Philippines - San Beda College (SBC) Red Lions head coach Frankie Lim believes the Red Lions are the underdogs going into their Finals series against rival San Sebastian College-Recoletos (SSC-R) Golden Stags.
This, despite having a 2-1 record against the Golden Stags this season and being the top seed after the elimination rounds.
|San Beda coach Frankie Lim
San Sebastian snapped San Beda's 26-game winning streak with a close victory to end the first round of NCAA Season 87, but the Red Lions bounced back with a dominant win in the second round, forcing a playoff for the number one seed.
The playoff game was a tighter affair, but the Red Lions still emerged triumphant over the Stags. They barged into the Finals for the 6th consecutive season after blowing out the Jose Rizal University (JRU) Heavy Bombers in the Final Four.
Still, Lim said they are the less fancied squad especially without last season's most valuable player, Sudan Daniel.
"Depleted 'yung line up ko, wala si Sudan. Last year, we had Sudan, and we swept the season," Lim said, referring to San Beda's historic Season 86 wherein they completed an 18-game sweep behind the dominant center.
"I think the pressure is on Baste," Lim said. "This year, I think parang wala na silang excuse, na meron kayong import."
Lim stressed that Daniel will not be playing in the Finals, as he has not yet fully recovered from an ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) injury he suffered in the pre-season.
San Sebastian had topped the league standings throughout most of the elimination rounds, before having their 15-game win streak snapped by the Colegio de San Juan de Letran (CSJL) Knights.
That loss sent the Golden Stags into a tailspin, losing two games against San Beda and again losing to Letran in the Final 4. The Stags were saved from elimination by their twice-to-beat advantage, and they bounced back against the Knights to book their 3rd straight Finals berth.
But Lim said the Stags could have duplicated their feat last season and swept the eliminations.
"They could have. Talo sila (against Letran) one point lang. I think medyo nagpabaya sila, maybe they took Letran lightly," Lim said. "The way Letran plays, they're tough, sometimes very tough. Hindi basta-basta magpapatalo ang Letran."
Lim believes his counterpart on the Stags bench, coach Topex Robinson, is making some adjustments just in time for the Finals.
"San Sebastian has good personnel, and in fact ang ginagawa ni Coach Topex ngayon, nilalaliman n'ya yung bench n'ya. Mas marami s'yang nilalaro ngayon, which helps the three guys in pacing themselves," Lim said.
The "three guys" are San Sebastian's Pinatubo Trio of Calvin Abueva, Ian Sangalang and Ronald Pascual, all of whom are in the running for season MVP.
For his part, Lim is grateful that at least one of his sidelined players has made a successful return.
Anthony Semerad, who missed a big chunk of the season after a bout with dengue, has been vital to the Red Lions' winning streak late in the season.
"Crucial ang pagbalik ni Anthony. Most of the guys are talking about Sudan, how we're playing without Sudan. They forgot about Anthony," Lim said. "Nagagawan lang namin ng paraan in our rotation... but now he's back and healthy."
This will be the third straight Finals meeting between the Red Lions and the Golden Stags, with each team boasting of one championship over the other.
Season 85 went to the Stags, while the Red Lions bounced back in Season 86.
This season will be the rubber match, and for Lim, there is nothing left to do but play hard.
"Finals eh. You just have to play hard every second, every single minute. There are no secrets. Sa 'kin, buhos kami, buhos sila, tingnan natin kung sino ang mananalo," he said.