First, I wish to congratulate the Letran Knights for bagging the NCAA Season 91 basketball title by besting the former five-time defending champs San Beda College (SBC) Red Lions in a thrilling 85-82 overtime win in Game 3 of the Finals.
Coach Aldin Ayo’s wards displayed an enormous heart during the pressure-packed game and overcame the bigger Lions. Kudos to my favorite Letran player—Finals MVP Mark Cruz. After the 2012 Finals, which SBC won over Letran, I told Mark that he would have other chances at the championship. He finally got his taste of the NCAA crown last Thursday on his final game in college basketball. Props also to Fr. Vic Calvo, Kevin Racal, Rey Nambatac, Jomari Sollano, McJour Luib and company, and the coaching staff, especially my friends Louie Gonzales and Glenn Capacio. Indeed, a well-deserved win.
Moments after the game, I couldn’t hide my disappointment over what I thought was a dubious call that effectively shut the door on San Beda’s six-peat hopes. On Twitter, I posted, “Refs made sure the NCAA sees a new champion.” The call was something we often see in UAAP and NCAA games—the free throw lane violation. With 6.7 seconds left in overtime and Letran up, 83-82, Sollano was about to take his second free-throw when teammate Luib entered the paint for a rebounding position. Lion Art Dela Cruz then followed but not after a moment of hesitation while looking at the referee, as if to check if it was okay (to enter). Sollano missed the shot. Both rebounders were inside the neutral zone before the ball left the shooter’s hand. Yes, there was a lane violation. But the refs ruled it as a double lane violation resulting in a jumpball situation via possession arrow. Possession to Letran.Left with no choice, the Lions fouled Cruz, who sank the first free-throw for a three-point lead. He bungled the second with just 3.7 ticks left leaving little room for the Lions to heave a shot.
I was seated on the San Beda bench as Team Manager and saw Luib enter first. Later on, the Knights admitted to having planned the coup after realizing that the possession arrow pointed their way. They baited Dela Cruz into entering ahead of the shot. And the refs took the bait too.
Wrong call. The call should’ve been a violation on the first offender even if a second one followed. Hence, possession should’ve gone to San Beda with still 6.7 seconds left in the game and down by just two. Although difficult, the Lions could’ve still sent the game into another overtime (or win with a triple). And so, that call by the refs, even if unintentional, made sure the NCAA saw a new champion.
It wasn’t my intention to sling mud at Letran’s victory. If my post offended people, then I apologize, especially to Letran and my Letranite friends, the NCAA, ABS-CBN and other stake¬holders. But I cannot apologize to the refs, whose mistake San Beda paid for dearly. The call not only deprived San Beda a chance to win, but also Letran a more compelling triumph. It left a bad taste in the mouth.
I respect NCAA commissioner Bai Cristobal, his staff and the Brascu referees, who officiate both NCAA and UAAP games, especially its chief Romy Guevarra, and senior official Nestor Sambrano, who was among the Game 3 refs. But for the sake of future games, the group must review its interpretation of the free throw lane violation rule.
Before anybody accuses me of being bias, let me say that I sought the opinion of FIBA experts, since the NCAA declared that it uses strictly FIBA rules. They were unanimous in confirming my interpretation. They saw the game video and said Luib made the violation first, and possession should’ve gone to SBC.
One of these experts, a retired FIBA Europe referee, said it best: “A double lane violation can only be called when both rebounders enter at the same time. But this is rarely seen in basketball. There’s always someone who comes in first, and his team gets the violation. Baiting an opponent is not within the spirit of the rules.”
I rest my case.