College of St. Benilde head coach Charles Tiu asserts that if the Blazers were to have a realistic shot at extending the NCAA Season 98 finals against Letran, the team has to endure the pressure of the championship series and “man up”.
“It’s really the pressure getting to them. I guess a lot of people don’t know how hard it is for them. I’m sure a lot of people have not played in a situation as big as this,” said Benilde’s second-year head coach.
The Blazers fell to the 3-peat seeking Knights in Game 1 last Sunday, 75-81 as Louie Sangalang powered his way to a stellar 24-point, 10-rebound performance for the defending champions.
Sangalang had an almost perfect outing, making 10-of-11 field goal attempts, something Tiu said the Blazers can’t afford to happen again for Game 2 which is slated Sunday at Araneta Coliseum.
“Our bigs have to do a better job stopping Sangalang, that’s for sure. We’ve been preparing for him and we talked about this,” said Tiu.
“They couldn’t execute it, more than anything, but we have to find our adjustments also and try to slow him down. Every game, he plays great against us. We have to do a better job there.”
The Knights' physicality also allowed the defending two-time titlists to draw 26 free throw attempts, 15 more than the Blazers.
“We have to do a better job executing and not letting them get into our heads. They played like they were the big bullies out there,” added Tiu.
“We keep allowing ourselves to get bullied, so we have to man up a bit and play a little bit tougher."
Another aspect of Benilde’s game that drew speculation from fans was three of its key contributors — Will Gozum (18 points), Miggy Corteza (18), and Rob Nayve (9) — all suffered cramps during the series opener.
“We can’t win games when four of your starters are out due to cramps or injuries. It’s very tough. 100 percent, it was a game-changer for us,” shared Tiu.
The mentor though insisted that the Blazers are in shape and that cramps were perhaps a matter of succumbing to pressure in the biggest of stages.
“The guys are in great shape. We don’t practice too hard to make sure they have enough legs (for game day). It really was the pressure,” he said.
“Corteza cramps up after 12 minutes in the first half, he was sitting down to start the third and it just happened. Nayve had cramps against San Beda and (against Letran), it happened again.”
Not someone to dwell in the past, Tiu reiterated that the Blazers, who are in their first men's basketball finals since 2002, have to live up to the challenge and prove they are worthy challengers to Letran’s throne.
"First time to play in the finals, our guys are not used to it. But no excuses, they just need to be tougher mentally also," he said.