SAN Beda guns for its 15th straight finals appearance while Mapua its first in 31 years as they battle each other in a knockout game on Wednesday in the 97th National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) basketball tournament at the Filoil Flying V Arena.
Facing the specter of being eliminated from final contention for the first time in 15 seasons, the Lions clawed their way back from a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter of regulation and eked out a life-saving 73-67 overtime win on Sunday to force a deciding game at 3 p.m.
Defending champion Letran claimed the first seat following a 77-75 win over Perpetual Help and awaits the winner of this showdown in the best-of-three championship series unfurling on Sunday also in San Juan.
James Kwekuteye returned from an ankle injury he suffered late in a play-in win over College of St. Benilde last week and uncorked a team-best 17 points while Jacob Cortez and Ralph Penuela came through with 13 points apiece.
The triumph put the Mendiola-based dribblers in the hunt for a place in the finals for the 15th season in row and a chance at a 12th crown during that span.
“It will be a tough game,” said San Beda coach Boyet Fernandez. “We believe that if we can step up our defense and challenging their three-point shooting and for us to play as a team on offense, we believe we have a chance to win.”
For the second-seeded Cardinals, they have a chance to save the series and clinch a finals spot for the first time since making it that far and completing a back-to-back title romp in 1991 with a triumph.
And Mapua almost did it with defense the last time as it held San Beda to just 33 points in the first three quarters including single-digit outputs in the first (six) and third quarter (eight).
But the Cardinals allowed the Lions to explode for 40 points from there, including 27 in the final period and 13 in OT, that proved costly. — Joey Villar