MANILA, Philippines – There is no doubt that San Beda College has the most dominant collegiate basketball program in the Philippines in the past decade. The Red Lions have won nine of the past 11 NCAA championships, including a run of five straight from 2010 to 2014.
They advanced to the NCAA Finals for the 12th season in a row on Tuesday, after downing San Sebastian College, 76-71, to secure the last finals spot in Season 93.
But there is a different air to the NCAA finals this year. For the first time in a very long time, the Red Lions head into the championship series as genuine underdogs.
That is because they are up against the Lyceum of the Philippines University Pirates, which won all 18 of their elimination round games. Included in those is an impressive double overtime win over the Red Lions in their final elims game that clinched a sweep for the Pirates.
"As what I've said, right now Lyceum is the best team. Right now, because they beat us twice," said San Beda coach Boyet Fernandez. "So underdog kami."
It has been quite a while since San Beda entered a championship series as the underdog. Fernandez himself can only recall it happening once before – in Season 87, when the Red Lions swept a powerhouse San Sebastian team anchored by the "Pinatubo Trio" of Calvin Abueva, Ian Sangalang, and Ronald Pascual.
"Baka mag-history (ulit), baka bumalik," said Fernandez.
Yet he also knows that their work is cut out for them. Both of their losses against Lyceum were close shaves, particularly their double overtime classic at the end of the elimination round when the Red Lions were seconds away from victory, only for the Pirates to snatch out the win in the end.
"I know we've been beaten by LPU fair and square," said Fernandez. "We lost those two games, but I still do trust my players. I know they will come out big, and we look forward for Friday's game."
"We'll find a way to win," he added. "Allow us to enjoy tonight, and let's see each other on Friday. Tingnan natin kung ano ang magagawa namin. But we're ready."
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