By Michael Angelo S. Murillo
RIVALS Letran Knights and San Sebastian Stags look to book a spot in the semifinals of Season 93 of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) when they collide today for the remaining slot at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Lumped in a three-way logjam for fourth place with a 9-9 record at the end of the elimination around, along with the Arellano Chiefs, the two storied teams now go through the final hurdle, set for 3 p.m., which in the end they hope to see themselves joining already-qualified Lyceum Pirates, San Beda Red Lions and Jose Rizal University (JRU) Heavy Bombers in the stepladder playoffs.
The Knights are coming in to today’s game fresh from a victory over Arellano, 70-68, last Friday in the first of what is a two-pronged playoff for number four for them.
A putback from erstwhile injured big man Jeo Ambohot with 3.3 seconds remaining towed Letran to the next step while slamming the door on the Chiefs who were on a roll prior to the loss after struggling to get their game going early in the tournament.
Pro-bound Rey Nambatac led the Knights with 25 points. He had the chance to score the potential game-winner when he drove to the basket in the dying seconds but missed, only to be bailed out by Ambohot.
JP Calvo had 11 and Bong Quinto nine points for Letran.
“The boys just refused to lose in this one,” Letran coach Jeff Napa said after their win.
While they are happy to have been able to pass the first hurdle, Mr. Napa said they still have to go back to the drawing board and work on some of their lapses.
“There are still some lapses we have to address if we want to go deep in the tournament. We must remain disciplined and execute our game plan,” the Letran coach said.
Looking to thwart Letran in its mission is Season 93 host San Sebastian which joined the playoff mix last by routing the Perpetual Help Altas, 80-60, last Thursday.
Owing to a superior quotient over Letran and Arellano though, the Stags earned a bye in their three-way tie which they hope to capitalize on when they go to court today.
RK Ilagan waxed hot for San Sebastian in their win over the Altas, finishing with 23 points, padded by five three-pointers, while Michael Calisaan had a double-double of 21 points and 10 rebounds.
“We’re happy to have reached this far. It only shows that the hard work that the players are giving is paying off. This will be a good learning experience for us. Hopefully we get past Letran and barge into the semifinals,” said winning coach Egay Macaraya.
The winner of today’s game will take on JRU on Friday in the first step in the stepladder Final Four.
Lyceum earned a direct path to the finals after sweeping the elimination round after a thrilling double-overtime victory over San Beda, 107-105, in their final elimination game last Thursday that relegated the defending champions Lions to the second spot.
Meanwhile, Lyceum’s Mike Harry Nzeusseu is the latest recipient of the NCAA player of the week after he helped the Pirates to a sweep of the elimination round and catapulted them to their first finals appearance.
The Cameroonian Nzeusseu had 27 points, 21 rebounds and two blocks in their big win over San Beda.
In winning the award, given by the UAAP press corps, Nzeusseu beat out teammate CJ Perez and Letran’s Nambatac.