MANILA, Philippines – Only two teams are left standing after five months of competition in the NCAA Season 93 men's basketball tournament.
The Lyceum of the Philippines University Pirates are making their first ever Finals appearance since making their NCAA debut six years ago, and they did it in impressive fashion. Lyceum sailed straight to the championship round after winning all 18 of their elimination round games.
Defending champion San Beda Red Lions secured the second Finals berth after outlasting San Sebastian, 76-71, in the final game of the stepladder semifinals last Tuesday. The Red Lions have been impressive all throughout Season 93 as well, but the Pirates have had their number so far.
They meet again on Friday at the Araneta Coliseum for Game 1 of the best-of-three Finals, a full three weeks since they last played against each other – a classic encounter that resulted to a double overtime win for LPU.
Game time is at 3:30 p.m., after Game 1 of the Juniors Finals between Mapua and College of St. Benilde.
The Pirates will be well-rested heading into Game 1, having last played on October 19. They have taken great care to avoid rust, even playing in a tune-up game against Alab Pilipinas. They also watched a UAAP game last weekend at the Big Dome, so as to get a feel of the venue ahead of time.
"Andoon 'yung excitement, and given naman 'yung feelings na nararamdaman namin, but it's a matter of channeling it to positivity," Lyceum coach Topex Robinson said. "We're more excited than kinakabahan."
"We know it's our first time to be in this level, and it's really an unchartered territory for us. But rather than being takot, we should be excited," he added.
"We know that we got nothing to lose, and we're happy where we are," he also said.
San Beda, for its part, has momentum on its side. The Red Lions led wire-to-wire against the Golden Stags on Tuesday, and they look to have regained their championship swagger after suffering a heartbreaking defeat to Lyceum in their final elimination round game.
Even so, San Beda coach Boyet Fernandez still insists that the Red Lions are the underdogs in the series.
"Right now, Lyceum is the best team," said Fernandez. "They beat us twice. So underdog kami."
Yet Fernandez also guaranteed that the proud Red Lions will do their best to do what no team has done so far in Season 93 – hand Lyceum a loss.
"We'll find a way to win," Fernandez promised. "Let's see each other on Friday. Tingnan natin kung ano ang magagawa namin. But we're ready."
It is only fitting that San Beda and Lyceum will meet in the Finals, as they have been the two best teams in the league all season long.
Lyceum is ranked first both on offense and defense, as they score 98.58 points per 100 possessions while allowing only 82.81 points per 100 possessions.
San Beda, however, is not far behind, posting an offensive rating of 97.84 and a defensive rating of 84.28.
And while Lyceum won both of their elimination round meetings, they did so by a combined margin of victory of seven points.
Given all these, both coaches are anticipating nothing less than a war come Game 1 and expect their players to put up their best effort.
"Obviously, it's going to be a good fight," Robinson said. "We know that they are the defending champions, and they're the ones who have a stronger team. I'm sure it's going to be a good game."
"I know we've been beaten by LPU fair and square. We lost those two games," said Fernandez, for his part. "But I still do trust my players. I know they will come out big, and we look forward to Friday's game."
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