Basketball UPDATE: CALABARZON, NCR in semi-finals
Two-time defending champion CALABARZON took one step closer to a 3-peat after beating Central Luzon 90-73, NCR wins against Central Visayas in overtime

DAGUPAN CITY, Philippines – Pressure. Pressure. Pressure.

Two-time defending champion CALABARZON took one step closer to a 3-peat, using its vaunted press no end to scalp Central Luzon, 90-73, and barge into the semifinals of the 2012 Palarong Pambansa secondary boys basketball tournament at the LNU Gym here on Thursday, May 10.

Holding a nine-point lead at half time, the Region IV-A cagers, represented by San Beda College, launched a searing third quarter attack and widen the bubble to 72-52 entering the final canto.

Region III mounted a comeback in the fourth, dropping a 10-0 bomb in just two minutes to trim the deficit to 72-62 before the Red Cubs regained composure and held off Central Luzon’s short-lived rally.

Masaya kami dahil naka semi-finals na (We’re happy because we made the semi-finals),” said coach Noli Mejos. “Nahirapan din kasi mga fighter yung taga CLRAA at physical yung style ng laro (It was difficult because the CLRAA team were fighters and had a physical style of play).”

And with a possible Final Four matchup with 2011 archrival Davao Region, Mejos added that there will be no let up for his squad as training resumes this afternoon.

Adven Jess Deputado top scored for the Red Cubs with 16 points while Joshua Caracut and Ranbil Tongo added 15 and 13 markers, respectively.

Alejandro powers NCR past Central Visayas

JJ Alejandro isn’t the national juniors team captain for nothing.

The National Capital Region standout scored 14 points in crunch time to lead the Big City cagers to a scintillating 91-85 overtime victory over hard-fighting Central Visayas and book a semifinals seat in the 2012 Palarong Pambansa secondary boys basketball tournament.

Alejandro, who led the Philippines to a fourth place finish in the Asian U-16 Championships, came through when it mattered most, draining timely 3-pointers and sinking clutch free throws as NCR held off a gritty stand by the Region VII bets.

Naisip ko na kelangan talaga mag step up (I knew I really had to step up),” the guard-forward said. “Nahirapan din kami dahil malakas sila at matindi dumepensa (We had a tough time because they had tough defense).”

NCR, whose core is composed of Letran College regulars, actually trailed for most of the game as their offense sputtered against the leech-like defense enforced by the Sacred Heart School-backed Central Visayas side.

“I give credit to the team because they never gave up,” said NCR coach Roberto Lotuaco. “They fought until the end. They fought until we won. Hindi sila umayaw (They didn’t give up).”

Alejandro himself struggled through the first 3 quarters before heating up in the fourth and in overtime.

Region VII threatened to pull away midway through the final period after a 15-footer by Dave Yu that gave them a 64-57 lead, the widest gap since the opening buzzer.

But Kier Quinto, who was saddled with foul trouble all throughout the game, grabbed crucial offensive boards and scored 4 points to help NCR cut the deficit to two at 66-64.

Then Alejandro took over.

The National University recruit drained a booming trey over the outstretched arms of Yu to give NCR its first taste of the lead in the fourth, 67-66, before feeding Mapua teammate Enjerico Diego inside as they stretched the gap to 71-68.

After Ivan Villanueva sank a jumper to make it a one-point affair, Alejandro calmly sank two free throws with 9.6 seconds as NCR appeared to be on the throes of victory, 73-70.

Central Visayas, however, refused to roll over and die as Patrick Go drilled in a Hail Mary three-pointer with 2.2 ticks left to send the game into overtime.

Diego and Region VII’s Matthew Oche traded baskets early in the extra session but an 8-0 blast highlighted by an Alejandro triple gave NCR an 83-77 advantage with two minutes remaining.

With the pro-NCR crowd roaring, Go fired back with a silencer and trimmed the gap to 83-80, 1:31 left.

And with the score at 85-82, Letran’s Rey Nambatac settled matters once and for all with a 3-pointer that put the game out of reach, 88-82, with only 30.1 seconds remaining.

Free throws by Alejandro and La Salle Zobel’s Henri Subido sealed it, 91-82, before Nelson Peralta shot a trey at the buzzer, 91-85.

Gusto ko hanggang umabot kami bukas sa semifinals, ganun pa rin yung laro ng mga players (I want them to play the exact same way in the semi-finals),” Lotuaco added. 

Alejandro paced NCR, which placed third last year, with 20 points while Go finished with 14 markers for Central Visayas. – With reports from Josiah Israel Albelda and David Lozada

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