MAPUA got the job done as it makes a strong push for the remaining outright Final Four slot in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.
Now, the Cardinals will need a lot of help from their Intramuros neighbor to make it to the semifinals for the first time since 2016.
In a close race with San Beda for No. 2, Mapua took the upperhand after ending its elimination round stint with a 75-65 win over also-ran Lyceum of the Philippines University yesterday at the La Salle Greenhills Gym.
The Cardinals, who hold a 7-2 slate, stayed within reach of the 7-1 Red Lions. Mapua is hoping for a Letran victory over San Beda in tomorrow’s rivalry game at the Filoil Flying V Centre to sew up the second automatic Final Four berth.
A win by the Lions, however, will relegate the Cardinals to the play-in stage, where Mapua will take on College of Saint Benilde, which finished the elims as the No. 4 team, for the third Final Four slot on Sunday.
Paolo Hernandez, who led the Cardinals with 13 points, five rebounds and two assists, is determined to bring his squad to a higher level after years of disappointments.
The last time Mapua made it past the eliminations was when league MVP Allwell Oraeme, CJ Isit and Andoy Estrella were leading the charge.
“Of course, masaya kasi after ilang years, puwede kaming makapasok sa Final Four at sa Finals,” said Hernandez.
Later, Justin Arana had 18 points and 29 rebounds in a no-relief job as Arellano University outlasted Jose Rizal University, 65-62, to secure a spot in the play-in round.
Arana missed an opportunity to match the league’s all-time record set by Allwell Oraeme, who grabbed 30 in the Cardinals’ 81-76 victory over the Chiefs on Sept. 18, 2015, with another rebound in the dying seconds but the graduating center has a more important agenda.
“Siyempre, kung makuha ko man iyon malaking tulong sa akin iyon,” said Arana, who recorded a season-best seventh double-double.
“Pero okay na iyon, sobrang tuwa ko na kasi iyon nga, nanalo na kami. Wala na kaming hihilingin pa. Maraming salamat sa mga teammates ko. Siyempre, nagtulong-tulong kami as a team,” he added.
“Saludo ako sa kanya,” said coach Cholo Martin on Arana’s new career-high in rebounds.
Arellano ended its elims with a 4-5 card and will take on the winner of the do-or-die match tomorrow between University of Perpetual Help System Dalta and Emilio Aguinaldo College in the play-in stage on Sunday.
A product of the multi-titled Red Robins program under coach Randy Alcantara alongside his current teammates Warren Bonifacio, Brian Lacap, Joaquin Garcia, and Jasper Salenga, Hernandez hopes that this will translate for the Cardinals to be contenders again.
“For me, malaking factor ‘yung samahan namin nung high school dahil nadala namin yun dito sa college,” said Hernandez.
“Familiarity yung feeling ko big factor din kung bakit nandito kami sa posisyon namin ngayon. Sa sistema nina coach Randy (Alcantara), (assistant) coach Yong (Garcia), nadala namin sa seniors,” he added.
Toby Agustin, one of the key Mapua’s recruits during the long hiatus, also scored 13 points Brian Lacap chipped in 12 points, while Arvin Gamboa, the son of former pro Arnold, produced a double-double of 10 points and 11 rebounds.
The Pirates ended their season with a 2-7 record in ninth, the team’s worst placing since 2016 – the year they last missed the Final Four prior to this one.
John Barba paced LPU with 16 points while Omar Larupay contributed 15 points and 14 rebounds.
Mapua (75) — Hernandez 13, Agustin 13, Lacap 12, Gamboa 10, Garcia 9, Nocum 6, Bonifacio 5, Asuncion 3, Pido 2, Mercado 2, Salenga 0.
LPU (65) — Barba 16, Larupay 15, Remulla 8, Cunanan 7, Navarro 6, Bravo 5, Guadaña 4, Garro 3, Abadeza 1, Jabel 0, Valdez 0, Guinto 0.
Quarterscores: 15-17, 32-34, 53-47, 75-65
Arellano (65) — Arana 18, Doromal 13, Sablan 11, Sta. Ana 7, Oliva 6, Concepcion 3, Valencia 2, Caballero 2, Carandang 2, Cruz 1, Steinl 0.
JRU (62) — Agbong 16, Dionisio 11, Macatangay 9, Delos Santos 8, Arenal 7, Celis 7, Guiab 4, Jungco 0, Bongay 0, Aguado 0, Estrella 0, Aguilar 0, C. Gonzales 0, dela Rama 0.
Quarterscores: 20-17, 34-28, 53-46, 65-62.
(Filoil Flying V Centre)
12 noon – Perpetual vs EAC
3 p.m. – Letran vs San Beda