Louie Sangalang scored a career-high 24 points and Colegio de San Juan de Letran withstood a gallant stand by the injury-riddled College of Saint Benilde to win 81-75 in Game 1 of NCAA Season 98 men's basketball finals at Araneta Coliseum on Sunday.
The Knights, who are 3-0 against the Blazers this campaign, can wrap up the championship next Sunday. And with it a third consecutive title, their first since the 1982-84 seasons.
King Caralipio added 16 points, and Kurt Reyson chipped in 13 points and 3 3-pointers for Letran, which survived a stellar game by Will Gozum.
Benilde rode the hot hand of league MVP Gozum to take control in the third quarter, but cramps with 40 seconds left in the third quarter forced him to remain on the bench for most of the fourth.
Without their best player, the Blazers missed a go-to presence on offense that Letran exploited.
The Knights went on a 17-4 run, bridging the third and fourth quarters to go up 75-69 with 5:30 left.
When Gozum was fielded back in with 50 seconds remaining, Benilde was down 77-73 and still had a chance to snatch victory.
But he was called for an illegal screen, a turnover that along with two free throws by Fran Yu killed the Blazers' chances.
Gozum going down was the second major injury to strike the Blazers in the game, after Miguel Oczon hurt his ankle two minutes into the first quarter when he landed on defender Kyle Tolentino's foot.
Meanwhile, Sangalang was a steady presence for coach Bonnie Tan in the second half, imposing his will in the paint to help Letran stay in step with Benilde.
He missed once in 11 field-goal attempts and collared 10 rebounds, showing out against big-man counterpart Gozum, who finished with 18 points and 11 rebounds, both team-highs.
Miguel Corteza, who also cramped up late in the third quarter and returned when Letran was up by 6, tallied 18 points on 8-of-11 shooting.
Game 2 returns to the Big Dome next Sunday. Game 3, if necessary, will be on December 18 at Ynares Center in Antipolo.
LETRAN 81 – Sangalang 24, Caralipio 16, Reyson 13, Paraiso 9, Yu 7, Javillonar 5, Olivario 4, Santos 2, Go 1, Tolentino 0, Monje 0, Ariar 0.
CSB 75 – Gozum 18, Corteza 18, Sangco 10, Nayve 9, Marcos 7, Pasturan 4, Oczon 3, Cullar 2, Carlos 2, Lepalam 2, Flores 0, Sumabat 0.
Quarters: 25-21, 52-50, 66-67, 81-75.