Levi Dela Cruz came through with an explosive performance as Arellano University (AU) routed a hapless Mapua University (MU), 81-64, to bolster its Final Four bid in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Season 93 basketball tournament on Tuesday at the FilOil Flying V Center in San Juan City.
Dela Cruz fired 20 points on an efficient 7-of-13 shooting as the Chiefs snagged their fourth straight victory for an even 9-9 win-loss record and remained No. 4 after their elimination round campaign.
The transfer playmaker also knocked down four triples to go with five assists, three rebounds and two steals.
“For a rookie, it (Dela Cruz’s performance) is outstanding. I think this is the third time that he became the best player of a game. I hope he will continue doing it,” said Arellano head coach Jerry Codiñera.
Lervin Flores chipped in 14 points on top of seven rebounds while Zach Nicholls tallied 11 markers and five boards for the Chiefs, who are continuing to win despite the absence of their injured main man Kent Salado.
“We were actually struggling in chemistry because of Kent’s absence. But there was also an upside. The other players got the chance to work within the system without Kent,” said Codiñera.
Christian Buñag was the lone bright spot for Mapua as the big man finished with another double-double of 22 points and 16 rebounds.
The tough-luck Cardinals ended up their dismal season at the cellar with a 3-15 card.
Dela Cruz and Nicholls combined forces in the second quarter as Arellano turned a narrow 17-13 lead into a 39-28 halftime advantage.
Mapua drained eight unanswered points behind Leo Gabo and Cedric Pelayo to close out the third frame with a manageable 48-58 deficit.
The Chiefs, led once again by Dela Cruz, retaliated with an 18-7 run to post their largest lead at 76-55 and practically seal the win with barely three minutes remaining.
Letran also secured a playoff for the last semis slot with a 66-60 win over hard-fighting College of Saint Benilde.
The Knights finished the elims with a 9-9 slate.
Meanwhile, in the opening game, Emilio Aguinaldo College (EAC) ended its campaign on a bright note with an 83-81 win over University of Perpetual Help System DALTA (UPHSD).
Jerome Garcia drilled in 22 points highlighted by four treys and Jethro Mendoza added 17 markers built on five three-pointers as the Generals finished with a 7-11 slate.
With the win, EAC also gave a fitting sendoff to graduating captain Sidney Onwubere, who chalked 15 points, nine rebounds and four assists in his final game.
Prince Eze scored 21 points and pulled down nine boards while GJ Ylagan had 17 markers for the Altas, who slid to 4-13.