Embattled defending NCAA champions San Beda Red Lions (SBC) face a familiar foe tomorrow—the San Sebastian Golden Stags (SSC)—in a knockout semis duel for the right to challenge the still unbeaten Lyceum of the Philippines University (LPU) in the best-of-three finals starting this Friday. The Lions and Stags have had classic clashes in the 90’s during San Sebastian’s four-year reign in the country’s oldest athletics league, and then again not too long ago.
Led by an all-star cast of Rommel Adducul, Banjo Calpito, Ulysses Tanigue, Brixter Encarnacion, and a few more notable names, the Stags were the most dominant collegiate team in the country from 1994 to 1997. This was such an imposing batch that nobody came close to upending SSC in its back-to-back conquest of the NCAA in 1994 and 1995. In 1996 and 1997, the Bedans beefed-up their squad that’s built on the deadly duo of Ralph Rivera and Renzy Bajar with some prize recruits like Dino Manuel, Norman Gonzales, Nick Jabagat, Francis Mercado, Kerwin McKoy and Julius Binuya, all over 6’4”, to counter the size and muscle of the Stags. The Lions were the first to serve the Stags a taste of defeat in 1996 after a buzzer-beating jumper by rookie Jess Barredo. But although the best-of-three finals were close, the Stags never gave the Lions a chance to repeat over them.
Part 2 of this rivalry came to life in 2009 when the so-called Pinatubo trio of Calvin Abueva, Ian Sanggalang and Ronald Pascual entered the NCAA scene and powered SSC to challenge the four-peat seeking Red Lions. This was like a reversal of roles from Part 1. True enough, the Stags ended San Beda’s three-year dynasty that year, sweeping the Lions in the finals. This warfare would go on for two more years as both SBC and SSC met also in the finals of 2010 and 2011, but this time with the Lions winning both duels.
Tomorrow, the Lions and Stags renew their storied rivalry in the 90’s as they fight to stay alive in the NCAA’s Season 93 and book a finals ticket against the LPU Pirates. San Beda, the most dominant team in the last 11 years, goes into an unfamiliar territory, having to play in a do-or-die battle to enter the finals. Since 2006, the Lions have not missed the finals, winning nine titles out of eleven finals appearances. But this year, SBC for the first time in 11 years ended the elims at No. 2, after LPU completed an 18-0 sweep that catapulted the Pirates to the finals. This also caused SBC to lose a twice-to-beat semis edge for the first time also in 11 years. LPU beat San Beda twice this year, even when the last encounter was a heart-pounding double overtime thriller.
The Stags, on the other hand, had to go through the proverbial eye of the needle after a couple of sudden death contests before setting this dance with the Lions. SSC passed its first test against the Letran Knights with a 74-68 victory to take the last seat in the finals. Then, because of the stepladder format as a result of LPU’s sweep of the elims, the Stags had to meet the Jose Rizal U Bombers, a team that beat them twice in the season already, in another knockout encounter. But they snapped out of a tight first quarter contest to blow the game wide open en route to an emphatic 85-73 triumph. This set the stage for a last showdown with old rival San Beda tomorrow.
Like JRU, San Beda has also defeated SSC twice already this season, 76-67 in the first round, and 76-65 in the second. The Lions have not lost to any team other than LPU. But the Stags are on a hot four-game winning streak and are eager to stage another colossal upset tomorrow. SBC is the best defensive team this season, limiting opponents to an average 65.8 points per game (PPG). SSC is No. 3 in defense, giving up 70.3 PPG. In offense, SBC and SSC are third and fourth respectively, with only 1 point separating them.
This should be a classic combat between fierce NCAA competitors that shouldn’t be missed.