MANILA, Philippines – After handing Lyceum of the Philippines University its first loss of NCAA Season 93, San Beda College will try to duplicate that feat on Thursday, with the Red Lions seeking to clinch the championship at the Araneta Coliseum.
The defending champions finally broke through last Friday when they outlasted the Pirates, 94-87, in Game 1 of their best-of-three finals series.
It was the Pirates' first loss of the season after sweeping the elimination round, including a pair of nail-biting victories over the Red Lions. Come the finals, however, San Beda proved to be the more composed team in the endgame, with Robert Bolick outplaying newly crowned MVP CJ Perez in crunch time.
"It's about finishing the game," said San Beda coach Boyet Fernandez, who noted that their elimination round games against Lyceum were both decided in the closing minutes. "We won that game because we finished it."
"We're happy that we finished it, and sana tuloy-tuloy na," he added.
Yet Fernandez is the first to point out that beating Lyceum for a second straight game is a tall task. After all, the Pirates did win 18 games in a row to advance to the finals outright.
"We just only won one game," said the San Beda coach. "We haven't won a championship yet."
"We're still the underdog," he declared. "They beat us twice, and they're still the best. If you total it, (they are) 18-1. We are 17-2. They're still the favorites for this."
Fernandez had previously labelled his crew as the underdog heading into the championship series, pointing to the Pirates' two victories over them. Initially, Lyceum lived up to the billing as the Pirates led by as much as 12 points in the first half.
But San Beda's championship poise was in full display in the second half, particularly in the fourth quarter. Bolick orchestrated a scintillating run to end the game, scoring nine of his team's final 11 points, to shock the Pirates and the huge crowd that they brought to the Big Dome.
Bolick had 24 points, 11 of which came in the fourth quarter. He finished the job started by Donald Tankoua, who kept San Beda in the game for the first three periods and had 27 points and 20 boards.
But Perez was no slouch. The MVP had 25 points and eight rebounds, and threatened to steal the game in the final minute when he helped Lyceum score five quick points. The final burst, however, came too late for the Pirates.
Lyceum coach Topex Robinson offered no excuses. He took responsibility for their defeat, admitting that he made some poor decisions in the game. But he also kept a positive outlook.
"Just like what I always tell these guys, it's not going to define us, just because of the loss," he said. "I mean, what's going to define us as a team is how we're going to bounce back."
"I'll try to lead them better come Game 2," Robinson promised.
Robinson believes that his players are ready to rise to the challenge of recovering from their first loss of the season. He gave them a brief break following Friday's game, but the Pirates have been hard at work since Sunday in preparation for Game 2.
If Lyceum is to force a do-or-die Game 3, however, they will need more contributions from their role players. Perez was his usual self, and Mike Nzeusseu chipped in with 14 points and eight boards. Skipper MJ Ayaay had 11 points, but he was the only other Lyceum player in double-digits.
The heralded Marcelino twins, Jayvee and Jaycee, combined for only 14 points. Jaycee, in particular, struggled in Game 1 as he made only three of 12 shots.
"Jaycee and Jayvee are new to this kind of environment. I just told them, 'Don't feel bad, because you've won us games. You won us a lot of games,'" said Robinson. "They really felt bad."
"Sabi ko, 'di niyo kasalanan. Hindi niyo buhat ang buong mundo. That's why we're a family. We cover for each other," he added.
Another San Beda victory will give the Red Lions their 21st NCAA title, and second straight. Meanwhile, Lyceum will try to force a do-or-die game as they search for their first NCAA crown since joining the league in 2011.
A Game 3, if necessary, will be on November 21, still at the Big Dome.
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