Red Lions, Knights go at it

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    SAN Beda defied the odds back in 2017, stunning Lyceum which went into the finals the odds-on favorite after completing an 18-game sweep of the eliminations.

    Now the shoe is on the other foot, and Red Lions coach Boyet Fernandez is hoping they won’t get stunned in the Big Dance that gets going today at the Mall of Asia Arena.

    “We don’t want to do the things that happened to Lyceum. Remember, they swept the eliminations (in 2017) but lost two straight (in the finals),” said Fernandez, whose charges are going for a four-peat.

    “We have to learn the lessons that happened to Lyceum two years ago so we have to be ready,” he added.

    The Red Lions square off with Letran today in Game 1 of their best-of-3 titular showdown for the 95th NCAA basketball crown. The match is set at 4 p.m., with the two squads clashing in the finals for the first time since 2015 and for the fifth time in the last 12 years.

    The Knights, then under coach Aldin Ayo and led by the likes of Mark Cruz, Jom Sollano, and now pros Kevin Racal and Rey Nambatac, ended San Beda’s five-year reign in a title series that went the distance in 2015.

    The Lions are coming off a 25-day break after proving untouchable in the elimination round with an 18-0 record capped by their 85-62 shellacking of Lyceum last Oct. 17.

    MVP Calvin Oftana, James Canlas, Evan Nelle, AC Soberano, Clint Doliguez, and 6-foot-5 Cameroonian big man Donald Tankoua are expected to lead the Lions’ bid annex their 12th title in 14 years and 23rd overall.

    Letran advanced to the finals the hard way.

    The Knights finished the eliminations with a 12-6 card and edged San Sebastian College 85-80 in a knockout game last Nov. 5 before following it up with a 92-88 triumph over the No. 2 Pirates in another do-or-die duel last Nov. 8.

    Letran coach Bonnie Tan expects a tough road in their hunt for title No. 18.

    “Alam naman natin na walang makatalo sa San Beda sa eliminations. Paghahandaan namin and we’ll give our best sa championship,” said Tan. “At least it’s a best-of-3, we have at least two games to try to bounce back against an unbeaten team.”

    The Knights will pin their hopes on graduating skipper Jerrick Balanza, burly big man Larry Muyang, Bonbon Batiller. Fran Yu, and Renato Ular.

    San Beda downed Letran 70-66 in their first meeting last Aug. 10 and 75-63 in the second round last Oct. 1.