NO. 3 Letran and fourth-ranked San Sebastian College know the road to the Big Dance only gets tougher from here but that won’t deter their determination.
The Knights tangle with the Golden Stags today in a knockout duel as the stepladder semifinals of the 95th NCAA basketball tournament get going at The Arena in San Juan.
The match is set at 4 p.m., with the winner gaining a shot at No. 2 Lyceum in another do-or-die battle on Friday for a finals slot opposite defending three-time champion San Beda University, which reached the finals outright after it completed a sweep of the eliminations with an 18-0 record.
The best-of-3 finals begin on Nov. 12 at the same venue.
Letran coach Bonnie Tan is unfazed by the grueling semis and added the Knights, who finished the eliminations with a 12-6 card, are bent on reaching the finals for the first time since 2015 when they won the crown against the Red Lions under coach Aldin Ayo.
“We have to win two games before we play in the championship. Pero palagi kong sinasabi sa mga players na huwag mag-relax, palagi ko silang china-challenge na huwag tayong masiyahan,” said Tan.
“Kung masaya na kayo diyan, hindi kami pumunta dito hindi para makapasok sa Final Four, but to play in the championship,” he added.
The likes of brawny big man Larry Muyang, shooter Jerrick Balanza, Bonbon Batiller, Fran Yu, and Renato Ular are expected to lead Letran’s charge.
San Sebastian strategist Egay Macaraya is hoping his charges can bring their A-Game against the Knights.
“We just hope na magiging maganda ang laban. We won against Letran by one-point (in our first meeting) pero tinambakan nila kami sa second round,” said Macaraya. “Hopefully, we can bounce back.”
The Stags wound up with an 11-7 record after the eliminations.
San Sebastian will pin its hopes on graduating gunner Allyn Bulanadi, RK Ilagan, Alvin Capobres, JM Calma, and Rommel Calahat in its bid to advance to the finals after eight years and bag its first title since 2009.