Knights eye clincher; Lions defiant

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    LETRAN has emerged as an unlikely worthy challenger to defending three-time champion San Beda University’s four-peat bid.

    Smelling blood, the Knights eye their first title in four years when they tackle the Red Lions anew today in Game 2 of their best-of-3 finals duel for the 95th NCAA basketball tournament crown at the Mall of Asia Arena.

    The match is set at 4 p.m.

    Letran is bidding to bag its 18th title overall since winning it all in 2015 under coach Aldin Ayo and led by the likes of Mark Cruz, Jom Sollano, and now pros Kevin Racal, Bong Quinto, and Rey Nambatac.

    San Beda is out to forge a winner-take-all Game 3 next Tuesday at the same venue.

    The Knights handed the Lions a shocking 65-64 loss, their first defeat this season, after an 18-0 elimination round sweep in the series opener last Tuesday. Letran’s gripping triumph snapped San Beda’s 32-game winning streak dating back to last season.

    Knights coach Bonnie Tan, in his first year calling the shots for the squad, insisted the series is far from over and added it’s up to his charges to get the job done.

    “Hindi pa rin tapos. Although we have the momentum, sana hindi na ito pakawalan ng players ko. Sila naman naglalaro at kung gusto nila, kunin nila,” said Tan.

    “We are here to motivate and guide them. The rest is upon them kung ano gusto nilang mangyari sa season,” he added.

    The likes of graduating skipper Jerrick Balanza, Fran Yu, Bonbon Batiller, Larry Muyang, Jeo Ambohot, and Renato Ular are expected to lead Letran’s charge.

    Down but not out, Lions coach Boyet Fernandez said his wards’ character and maturity will be tested.

    “I believe that it will be tough because we only lost once this season. We don’t know how we will come back but I told them that the test of our character is how we can come back from a loss. It’s up to us to get back at them on Friday,” said Fernandez.

    “It’s a big test for our character and the maturity of our young boys. If they step up, then I will say that they made it to where they wanted it to be. This is big pressure for us. We have to win on Friday, if not, we are just giving up a championship.”

    San Beda will pin its hopes on MVP Calvin Oftana, James Canlas, Evan Nelle, AC Soberano, Clint Doliguez, and 6-foot-5 Cameroonian big man Donald Tankoua.