By Joey Villar
RHENZ ABANDO provided the spark and Fran Yu put on the finishing touches as Letran survived an upset-conscious University of Perpetual Help, 77-75, yesterday to barge into the finals of the 97th NCAA basketball tournament at the Filoil Flying V Arena.
Mr. Abando erupted for a game-high 24 points including 22 in the first three quarters while Mr. Yu scored all his team’s last six points to power the Knights to the best-of-three finals starting next week where they they have a chance to claim their 19th cage title.
Mr. Abando waxed hot early and erupted for 15 points in the first half and then dropped seven in the third when the defending champions outscored the Altas, 26-16, to turn a 36-39 halftime deficit to a 62-55 edge at the end of the third quarter.
With the game on the line, Mr. Yu entered the fray and came through in the clutch as he scored the reigning titlist’s last six points including a three-point play that gave them the lead for good.
“I just want to help the team in any way I can,” said Mr. Yu, who finished with 13 points, five rebounds, three assists and a steal.
It was a heartbreaker of a loss for the Altas, who had all the chances to pull off an upset and force a knockout game.
Down by just a hairline with less than two minutes left, UPHSD went scoreless as it blew several chances including a potential game-winning triple by Cris Pagaran and a potential game-tying, overtime-forcing tip in by John Abis — both eventually ending up in a pair of misses.
It did not help that Kim Aurin, one of the team’s top scorers who was stricken by chicken pox, sat out on this one even though the Myk Saguiguit-coached Altas were told that there was a chance he could play.
Mr. Aurin did not.
UPHSD seized the initiative in the second quarter when team captain Jeff Egan and Mr. Pagaran took turns in helping the team go into the break with a three-point lead.
Letran 77- Abando 24, Ambohot 14, Yu 13, Paraiso 7, Sangalang 7, Olivario 5, Javillonar 4, Reyson 2, Mina 1, Caralipio 0, Fajarito 0
UPHSD 75- Razon 21, Egan 14, Abis 11, Pagaran 8, Omega 7, Boral 6, Barcuma 4, Cuevas 4, Martel 0, Kawamura 0, Sevilla 0
Quarterscores: 20-17; 36-39; 62-55; 77-75