Mapua tries to end an excruciatingly long title wait while San Beda aims to relive its dynastic reign the last two decades as the two open their best-of-three National Collegiate Athletic Association senior basketball Season 99 championship showdown today at the MOA Arena in Pasay City.
The Cardinals made quick work of the College of St. Benilde Blazers to advance to the finals while the Lions needed two epic victories to overcome the Lyceum of the Philippines University Pirates in arranging their intriguing duel set at 2 p.m.
Game Two is set Sunday also in MOA while a decider, if necessary, is Dec. 17 at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Mapua though has packed in extra motivation as it eyes its first crown since last winning it all 32 years ago, and, in all, a seventh crown.
The Cardinals earned a shot two years ago when they made the finals only to get swept in two games by the Letran Knights.
Interestingly, Mapua coach Randy Alcantara was part of that champion team in 1991 when it bested San Beda via the full, three-game route.
Now Alcantara will have a chance to reprise that momentous experience and win himself another crown—his first as a coach in the seniors division.
If it happens, Alcantara will become one of the rare few, if there are others at all, that won as a coach and player in college and as a coach in high school in the NCAA.
But Alcantara is taking it a step at a time.
“Game One lang muna ang focus namin,” said Alcantara.
Paolo Hernandez and Clint Escamis, who delivered the killer blows by unloading 22 and 21 points, respectively, in the Final Four, will be the focal point anew for Mapua’s attack although defense will remain its driving force.
“Depensa pa rin, dun kami kumukha ng lakas from the start,” said Alcantara.
And Mapua’s defense will be tested against San Beda’s vaunted three-point gunners, who combined for 26 triples overall in the latter’s masterful two-game semifinal conquest of LPU in the semis.
What’s worrisome though, the Lions have proven they’re not just overly reliant on their top gunner Jacob Cortez.
“We have to hit our shots and play defense again,” said San Beda mentor Yuri Escueta.
Unlike title-hungry Mapua, San Beda has been the most dominant force in the league in the last two decades when it raked in an impressive 11 titles although it crashed and burned and failed to make the finals the last two seasons.
Now they’re back in that familiar place eyeing to reclaim that old champion self.
“From the start, our goal in every game is to win the championship. And one step closer,” said Escueta.