You don’t normally say this to pirates. But the gallant Pirates, Lyceum of the Philippines University’s (LPU) varsity basketball squad, deserve all praises from the local sporting world. They took the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s (NCAA) 93rd Season by storm by completing a record 18-0 sweep of the elimination round. This rare feat catapulted the former league whipping boys to the finals as the other contenders had to knock each other out in a stepladder semis round.
Led by second-year coach and former NCAA standout from San Sebastian Topex Robinson, the Pirates displayed a different look this year from their previous seasons. This look was exciting and terrifying at the same time. Just like real pirates would inflict fear in the hearts of their victims, the Intramuros-based crew used aggression to defeat opponents, who fall prey to a relentless and unforgiving full-court pressure defense. They forced opponents into a myriad of errors and coasted to victory by scoring heavily off these turnovers. Using discipline, determination and undeniable unity, the Pirates slew their foes one after the other, including defending and perennial league champions San Beda Red Lions. In a heart-pounding second round meeting, LPU forced San Beda into 25 turnovers that produced 33 turnover points to win in double overtime, 107-105.
CJ Perez, the hands down choice for Season 93’s MVP, was an unstoppable force throughout the tournament. The former San Sebastian Stag and Ateneo Blue Eagle was talent and athleticism combined. Add Cameroonian powerhouse Mike Harry Nzeusseu, Jesper Ayaay, the dynamic twins Jaycee and Jayvee Marcelino, and Reymar Caduyac, LPU became a solid unit that’s as good as any in Philippine college basketball. The Pirates finished first in 13 out of the 20 statistical departments in the NCAA, including scoring, rebounding, assists and turnover points. They became the instant title-favorites, and the new talk of the town.
But San Beda managed to survive San Sebastian in a do-or-die semis bout and booked its 12th finals appearance in a row. Deep in talent and size, and piloted by multi-titled hoops mentor Boyet Fernandez, the Red Lions were clearly a colossal threat to LPU’s championship aspirations. Prior to the best-of-three finals, the two teams met twice and the Pirates won in both occasions. But the championship phase is a stage the Red Lions are most familiar with. They shine brightest when the stakes are highest. They are used to being in the spotlight. And they have a tremendous following dubbed as the Red Army. San Beda erased the stigma of its two losses to LPU by sweeping the Pirates in the finale, 2-0, to grab its 21st NCAA diadem, and the tenth in the last twelve years. Fernandez, now a three-time NCAA champion coach, found an antidote to the Pirates’ dreaded trapping defense, resulting to a 92-82 triumph in the deciding Game 2. The Lions prevailed in cutting down turnovers, showing only 16 and giving up just 18 turnover points, which is a far cry from their previous encounters. San Beda third-year center Donald Tankoua amassed 17 markers and 17 boards to snatch the Finals MVP honor. But it was the trio of Robert Bolick, AC Soberano and graduating guard Davon Potts that ignited a 27-16 fourth quarter performance to break out of a tight contest that’s dictated by the Pirates for at least 30 minutes.
Bolick connected with a dagger trey over Nzeusseu in the last 50 seconds of play for a seven-point San Beda advantage, which finally broke the camel’s back. Robinson called his last time out, not to design a play but to tell his boys to be gracious in defeat and congratulate the winning team. Truly a class act.
It may be a heart-breaking way to end what was once a magical campaign but the Pirates gained the admiration and respect of an entire nation. They are living proof that hard work pays dividends. And now, they’re no longer league pushovers, but legit title-contenders. Kudos to Robinson, his staff, and the entire LPU community. Absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. And with only Winston Baltazar exiting the Pirates’ ship, LPU remains a strong contender next season, and probably even scarier. So take a bow, Pirates.