NCAA: Underdog tag in finals can't faze Letran's Balanza

Camille B. Naredo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Nov 10 2019 09:32 PM

NCAA: Underdog tag in finals can't faze Letran's Balanza 1
Letran captain Jerrick Balanza. Arvin Lim, ABS-CBN Sports

MANILA, Philippines -- Colegio de San Juan de Letran team captain Jerrick Balanza is very familiar with the experience of entering the NCAA finals as an underdog.

After all, Balanza was part of Letran's Season 91 team that made a dream run to the finals, then completed a three-game upset of a powerhouse San Beda University team. He was a freshman back then, and played spot minutes while Mark Cruz, Kevin Racal, Rey Nambatac, and Jom Sollano shone. 

Now in his final season with the Knights, Balanza has a chance to repeat that feat -- but this time, as the captain of an underdog Letran squad that is eyeing to take down the unbeaten Red Lions in another best-of-3 series.

"Ang Letran, sanay naman na underdog 'yan pagdating ng finals eh," said Balanza on Friday, after helping the Knights oust Lyceum of the Philippines University, 92-88, in their stepladder semifinal game at the Cuneta Astrodome.

"Una, wala kaming foreign (player), 'di ba?" he pointed out. "So ayun, talagang puso-puso lang labanan, patapangan, pangil kung pangil."

"Ganoon lang naman kami lagi. Sa tagal ko sa Letran, 'yan ang natutunan ko diyan."

In 2015, the Knights stunned a San Beda team anchored by Ola Adeogun, Art dela Cruz, and Baser Amer. Their frenetic pace -- a trademark of an Aldin Ayo team -- proved too much even for the veteran Red Lions squad, and the Knights came away with their first NCAA title in a decade.

This time, they have another tall task in trying to stop a team that features Season 95 MVP Calvin Oftana, another solid foreign student-athlete in Donald Tankoua, and the "Bandana Brothers" of Evan Nelle and James Canlas.

San Beda swept their elimination round games, 70-66 in the first and 75-63 in the second round.

Yet Balanza, who averaged 15 points, 3 rebounds and 3 assists in the eliminations, is confident of their chances.

"Confident ako, siyempre," he said. "Positive naman ako lagi, 'di ba?"

It was this kind of mindset that helped him in the first phase of the stepladder, he said, when they held on for an 85-80 triumph over San Sebastian College.

"Bilang positive minded, maganda 'yung nangyayari. So, ganoon pa rin -- imo-motivate ko 'yung teammates ko na maging positive against San Beda," said Balanza.

"Hindi man kami nanalo sa kanila ng dalawang beses sa elimination, makakabawi kami sa championship ng dalawang beses, kung sakali," he added. "Pero paghihirapan namin."

Game 1 of the best-of-3 finals is on Tuesday, November 12, at the Mall of Asia Arena.

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