MANILA, Philippines -- After seeing his best effort of the season go for naught, San Sebastian College's RK Ilagan is already preparing himself to carry an even bigger load for the Golden Stags next year.
Ilagan exploded for a career-best 36 points in San Sebastian's stepladder semifinal game against Colegio de San Juan de Letran on Tuesday, making 12 of his 20 shots including 7 of 13 three-pointers. He had 13 points in the final frame alone, helping the Golden Stags rally from a 14-point deficit.
Unfortunately, his scoring exploits were not enough. Cramps took Ilagan out of the game for a crucial stretch in the final minute, and the Knights eventually secured an 85-80 win to stay alive in the NCAA Season 95 stepladder semis.
"We fell short," said Ilagan, who also had 6 points and 3 assists in the season-ending loss. "'Yun nga, ganda ng depensa nila, tapos lahat pa ng three-points nila, shumu-shoot."
The loss is particularly painful for Ilagan, as he wanted to extend the NCAA careers of their senior wingmen in Allyn Bulanadi and Alvin Capobres. The two veterans were limited by Letran's defense, with Bulanadi -- the league's leading scorer -- notching just 15 points on 5-of-17 shooting, and Capobres scoring just 5 points.
With the two players now headed out of San Sebastian, the pressure is squarely on Ilagan's shoulders to lead the Golden Stags in Season 96.
It's a challenge that he is ready for.
"Magkakaroon lang kami ng one week rest, tapos preparation na for next season," said Ilagan, who averaged 14.67 points in the elimination round.
"Kailangan namin magkaroon ng babawi sa dalawang mawawala," he added, noting that Itchie Altamirano, Ken Villapando, and Rommel Calahat all have to improve so they can fill the gaps left by Bulanadi and Capobres.
"Sa akin naman po, hindi ko pine-pressure sarili ko," said Ilagan, as he pointed out that coach Egay Macaraya wants them to play as a team. "Sa akin lang, dagdagan ko pa 'yung pagiging tough ko kasi next year, mas madiin pa sa akin ang depensa."
It helps that Macaraya named Ilagan their team captain in Season 95, even though he had two players older than the guard. Ilagan feels that he had already gained the respect of his teammates, making his job easier come next year.
"Sa akin lang, next year kailangan mas diinan pa. 'Yung leadership ko, kailangan tumaas pa," he said.
"Gagawin ko lang talaga 'yung best ko. Last season ko na, kumbaga, mag-e-extra time pa, double time, triple time, para mag-improve," he added.
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