PLAYING on its first Final Four game since eliminating former league member Philippine Christian University for a place in the Finals on September 13, 2002, College of Saint Benilde hopes to make the most out of its return in the semifinals.
Having the coveted twice-to-beat advantage in their hands by finishing as the top-ranked team in the eliminations at 14-4, the Blazers are raring to get the job done.
Benilde guns for its first championship appearance in two decades as it takes on No. 4 San Beda in the NCAA men’s basketball Final Four at 12 noon today at the Filoil EcoOil Centre.
The Blazers may have completed a sweep of their elimination round head-to-head against the Red Lions, but the Final Four is a different story.
“It doesn’t matter if we’ve beaten these teams sa semis, zero-zero all yan sa semis. Iba yung pressure nun. I don’t know how the guys will respond. We worked hard to be in this position so it’s a good feeling kahit papano,” said Benilde coach Charles Tiu.
The Blazers, who still hold the distinction of being the fastest team to win a NCAA title in 2000, reached this far with the solid core led by Will Gozum, Migs Oczon and Miggy Corteza.
For the second consecutive season, San Beda is will have a twice-to-beat disadvantage in the Final Four, as the Mendiola-based squad was booted out by Mapua in the previous tournament – missing the Finals for the first time since 2005.
James Kwekuteye, JB Bahio and Tony Ynot will lead the Red Lions’ bid to send their semis duel with the Blazers to a decider on Friday.
Three-peat seeking Letran and Lyceum of the Philippines University collide in the other semifinal at 3 p.m.
The best-of-three finals is scheduled on Sunday.
The Knights settled for the No. 2 ranking after dropping their final elimination round game, allowing the Pirates to clinch the third spot. Letran’s loss to Jose Rizal University also avoided a Final Four duel with bitter rival San Beda.
The Intramuros rivals split their head-to-head meetings in the elims. The Pirates capitalized on the absence of suspended key players Brent Paraiso and Louie Sangalang to prevail over Letran in the first round, before the Knights got their revenge in the second round.
Regardless of the Final Four result, LPU made a huge turnaround after it failed to get past the elimination round last season, something that coach Gilbert Malabanan will be proud of.
For Letran, being a win away from the Finals is such an accomplishment as it overcame the departure of MVP Rhenz Abando and the early season struggles caused by the two-game bans on Paraiso and Sangalang.