IT’S now or never for the Letran Knights as they try to level the best-of-three series in Game 2 against defending champion San Beda College Red Lions today in the 89th National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) basketball tournament at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City.
The Red Lions posted a convincing 80-68 win in Game 1 to take a 1-0 lead. A win by San Beda today would enable them to secure their 18th NCAA crown as well as their fourth straight in the oldest collegiate league in the country. Letran, which won the crown for the last time in 2005, ranked as the most second winningest team with 16 titles. The Red Lions and the Knights will clash at 2:30 p.m.
Nigerian Olaide Adeogun, John Mark Ludovice and Baser Amer, who combined for 38 points in the opening game of the series, are expected to lead the Red Lions anew with support from the Semerad brothers Dave and Anthony, Art de la Cruz, Kyle Pascual and Rome de la Rosa.
In the Knights’ camp, the injured thumb of Mark Cruz dims the squad’s hope of forcing a winner-take-all Game 3 on Saturday.
“I escaped practice on Tuesday because it was so painful. I can’t even hold the ball. It’s swollen,” said Cruz, who topscored for the Knights with 22 points on top of seven assists and seven rebounds in the previous game.
He said he would use painkillers and play to foil the Red Lions’ sweep of the series.
“I may not be 100 percent on Thursday. But it can be remedied by applying pain killers,” added Cruz. His coach Caloy Garcia said he made several adjustments for Game Two because of Cruz’s injury.
“We have a practice last Tuesday without Mark Cruz. We run plays and hope we can execute them well on Thursday. Mark Cruz is very important for us. He is a scorer and he can dictate the tempo of the game. We can’t play without him. This is already the Finals and no time to relax,” said Garcia.
Meanwhile, defending champions SBC Red Cubs, who opened the Junior Finals with 79-68 triumph on are aiming for their 21st title and fifth straight championship when they face College of Saint Benilde-LSGH Greenies at 12:30 p.m.