MANILA, Philippines – Jeff Napa expressed his pride for his former players after Colegio de San Juan de Letran advanced to the NCAA Season 95 finals on Friday, thanks to an impressive victory over Lyceum of the Philippines University.
Behind the superb play of Fran Yu and a clutch bucket from Larry Muyang, the third-seeded Knights ousted No. 2 Lyceum, 92-88, in the knockout game to set up a finals showdown with defending champion San Beda University.
"Sobrang proud talaga ako sa kanila," said Napa, who coached Letran from Season 92 to 94. "'Yung talagang iniwan namin last year, hindi nila kinalimutan."
"Tumatak sa kanila lahat. 'Yung attitude talaga 'yung nandon. 'Yung puso ng mga bata, hindi sila bumigay hanggang dulo," he added.
Napa steered the Knights to the Final 4 last season, but they bowed to the Pirates in lopsided fashion, 109-85. Thus, the coach was thrilled to see his former players gain a measure of revenge against Lyceum en route to their first finals appearance since 2015.
He was especially delighted for Yu and veteran Jerrick Balanza, who both shone in the game. Yu was a rookie in Season 94, and struggled against the Pirates' pressure in the Final 4. Balanza, meanwhile, watched from the stands as he was still recovering from surgery to remove a brain tumor.
"Good thing talagang binigay nila 'yung best nila ngayon, hindi na ako nagtaka sa naging performance ng dalawa," said Napa of the pair.
The Knights now head to the best-of-3 finals, where they are the underdogs against undefeated San Beda. The Red Lions have yet to drop a game in Season 95, and they beat Letran, 70-66 and 75-63, in their elimination round games.
"Maganda, exciting. Very exciting 'yung match-up na 'yan. Pero siyempre I’m rooting pa rin for Letran. Talagang 'yung mga players, binigay nila 'yung best nila eh," said Napa.
While the Knights have not gotten much success against San Beda this year, Napa expects that to change in the finals.
"Definitely, malaking pagbabago kasi healthy, maglalaro lahat eh. So 'yun ang pinaka-factor dito sa team na ‘to, kailangan healthy. So confident talaga ako na magiging maganda ang performance nila ngayong finals," he guaranteed.
Game 1 of the NCAA Season 95 finals is on Tuesday at the Mall of Asia Arena.
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