|The San Beda Red Lions and the San Sebastian Golden Stags meet each other in the NCAA Finals for the third straight season. Photo by Diana Moraleda for abs-cbnNEWS.com.
MANILA, Philippines - San Beda and San Sebastian renew their championship rivalry today as they mix it up in the opener of their best-of-three series for the 87th NCAA men’s basketball crown at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
The Red Lions head into the 4 p.m. contest enjoying momentum from an eight-game winning streak and psychological edge from back-to-back thrashing of the Stags, 91-70 (end of elims) and 88-85 (playoff for No. 1 seeding in the Final Four).
For this, Stags rookie coach Topex Robinson conceded his wards are not the favored ones.
"We are the underdogs coming into the finals. They already have beaten us twice this season. So we hope to bounce back," said Robinson.
But San Beda coach Frankie Lim maintained those previous meetings are but a thing of the past.
"We may have won our last two games against them but this is the finals. This is a different ballgame. We expect them to come out prepared and ready," said Lim, looking to steer SBC to its fourth NCAA title under his watch.
Top seed San Beda qualified early after routing No. 4 Jose Rizal in the Final Four, 83-74, while No. 2 San Sebastian had to go through a second game against No. 3 Letran. The Knights took the first game, 70-62, but the Stags prevailed in the rubber match, 63-56, to forge Year Three of their title series with San Beda.
Spitfire Garvo Lanete, wingman Rome dela Rosa, and reliable bigs Jake Pascual, Dave Marcelo, and Anthony Semerad have been stepping up for the Lions to fill in the void left by last year’s MVP, American Sudan Daniel, out on ACL injury all season long.
"We have a depleted lineup. Last year, we had Sudan, and we swept the season," Lim said in an interview on ANC's Hardball. "I think the pressure is on SSC. This year, I think they don't have an excuse, that we have an 'import'."
The deadly triumvirate of Calvin Abueva, set to be named 2011 MVP, Ian Sangalang and Ronald Pascual will carry the load for SSC.
"It's not about the Big Three, it's about everyone," said Robinson. "We know that these three guys will put their hearts out but what's important is the other guys."
SSC's efforts to get its bench involved is not lost to Lim. "San Sebastian has good personnel, and in fact that's what coach Topex has been doing. He makes the most of his bench, which helps the three guys in pacing themselves."
Meanwhile, the San Beda Red Cubs and CSB-LSGH Greenies take the court at 2 p.m. for their own championship showdown. The Red Cubs enjoy thrice-to-beat advantage after sweeping the 18-game eliminations.
The league also honors the top performers of the season in both the seniors and juniors division during the halftime break of the SBC-CSB-LSGH match.