MANILA, Philippines—Even the San Beda Red Lions could not help but marvel at the performance put on by Letran's Fran Yu in Game 2 of the NCAA Season 95 men's basketball finals.
The smallest man on the floor was also the best player in the game for long stretches, as Yu dismissed the San Beda defense. He pulled up for two consecutive 3-pointers in the final two minutes of the third quarter, then banked in an awkward shot that pushed Letran ahead, 56-53, at the buzzer.
He helped the Knights take a 66-59 lead with 7:44 to go in the game, before disaster struck for Yu and Letran. The diminutive guard succumbed to cramps with more than three minutes left, and had to be helped off the floor.
As much as he wanted to return, Yu couldn't. The pain was just unbearable.
"Hindi na kaya, kasi umangat na, kaya binuhat na lang nila ako kasi hindi ko kayang maglakad. Hanggang dito na sa tiyan ko na," Yu revealed after the game.
He went out with 23 points and 5 assists in 28 minutes, and the Knights did their best to make sure that his efforts were not in vain. A big jumper by Larry Muyang put them on top, 76-74, with under a minute to go.
But San Beda answered back, courtesy of an and-1 by reigning MVP Calvin Oftana. That big play put the Red Lions ahead, 77-76, and the Knights could not recover. Bonbon Batiller agonizingly missed a potential go-ahead layup, and his last foul of the game sent James Canlas to the line for the game-clinching free throws.
Yu, who had his head bowed in prayer in the final seconds, was stone faced when asked about their eventual 79-76 defeat.
"Sana pumasok na lang 'yun para tapos na (pero) hindi pumasok, ayun may Game 3 pa. Magpa-practice kami bukas, bigay lahat doon," he said.
"Masakit, kasi wala akong natulong sa team noong end game," he added when prodded for his thoughts in the closing seconds.
The Red Lions acknowledged that they dodged a bullet when Yu had to be subbed out of the contest.
"Fran Yu, wow," said San Beda coach Boyet Fernandez. "We're just lucky he got cramps, that’s why we got the momentum and got back in the game. I salute that guy."
Added Oftana, who scored 11 of his 17 points in the fourth quarter to tow the Red Lions to victory: "Lucky lang kami, nawala 'yung Fran Yu sa fourth. Doon kami parang lumamang. That guy, sobra."
Yu shrugged off his explosive third quarter performance, saying he was simply taking advantage of the situation. He also made light of the MVP chants that the Letran crowd rained down on him when he was fouled by Evan Nelle to start the final frame.
"Di lang naman sa akin 'yun, para sa kanila, sa buong team, sa mga seniors namin. Bale wala 'yung mga individual awards kung di namin makukuha 'yung championship," said Yu, who was named Most Improved Player of the year.
With his explosive performance in Game 2 going down the drain, Yu's focus has already shifted to Tuesday's do-or-die Game 3.
"Magiging mas ready lang kami," he vowed.
"Lalaruin ko lang kung ano laro ko. Depensa muna. 'Pag nagshu-shoot mga tira ko, titira ako ng titira."
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