MAPUA found a way to disarm San Beda’s gunners and went to Clint Escamis in the clutch to score a 68-63 victory on Wednesday and moved a win away from clinching its first National Collegiate Athletic Association seniors basketball title in 32 years at the SM Mall of Asia Arena.
The Cardinals made life difficult for Jacob Cortez, who had only 12 points after a scoreless first half, and the Red Lions’ shooters, who were held to just five triples out of the 32 attempts they took.
It was in stark contrast to San Beda’s 13 three-pointers in each of its two Final Four victories over Lyceum of the Philippines University that sealed the Red Lions a spot to the Finals.
“We know San Beda’s deadly from the three-point zone, so we stopped them from sniping,” Mapua captain Warren Bonifacio said.
Bonifacio faced media during the post-game press conference in lieu of head coach Randy Alcantara who apologetically begged off after feeling dizzy late in the game.
“We prepared for days defending their three-point shots,” said the 25-year-old Bonifacio, who’s playing his fifth and final year.
Season Most Valuable Player Escamis bucked cramps midway the third quarter and drained a thunderous triple and sank two pressure-packed free throws to help seal the win for Mapua.
“I had cramps in the third quarter, but managed my time and poured all I’ve got in the final period,” Escamis said.
Game 2 is set Sunday also at the MOA Arena with the Cardinals targeting to win their first crown since 1991 and seventh overall in the league.
A Game 3, if necessary, is set on December 17 at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Bonifacio warned they still have a lot of work to do.
“We’re glad we won the first game in the series, but the job’s not done yet,” Bonifacio said. “San Beda will surely try to come back in Game 2 and we’ll have to prepare hard.”
The Red Lions led by eight, 29-21 in the second period, but the Cardinals fought off Finals jitters and unleashed a 15-2 salvo to go up 36-31 at halftime.
That was the spark Mapua needed in mounting a 16-point lead.
Cortez, shadowed and shackled by revelation Ryle Rosillo most of the game, came alive by draining that miraculous three-pointer almost from mid-court before the end of the third canto.
Image credits: Rudy Esperas