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MANILA, Philippines — Backs against the wall, the San Beda Red Lions refused to back down to extend their season once more.
As San Beda coach Yuri Escueta pointed out, it’s not the first time the Red Lions defied the odds, this time not letting the Mapua Cardinals claim their first championship since 1991 in Game 2 of the NCAA men’s basketball finals on Sunday, December 10, before a raucous crowd of over 22,000 at the Mall of Asia Arena.
“[Game 3 is] a do-or-die game, it’s just the same thing today, we went all out,” Escueta said after San Beda hacked out a 71-65 escape against Mapua to force a rubber match on Sunday, December 17.
“We’ve been in this situation before, not just one time but five or six times, and the only thing we did is tell ourselves to stay together and not give up, fight until the end whatever the result is,” he added.
San Beda’s chances of making the Final Four were in jeopardy during the second round of the eliminations when the Red Lions hovered at fifth place, before winning needed games to stay afloat and climb to the top three.
In the semifinals, the Red Lions also pulled off an upset, overcoming a twice-to-beat disadvantage against the No. 2 Lyceum Pirates to set up a date with the top-seeded Cardinals led by Most Valuable Player Clint Escamis and Mythical Five member Warren Bonifacio.
In Game 2, the Red Lions led by as many as 15 points that they later blew, even trailing by 6 in a back-and-forth affair that would see Jacob Cortez nail seismic shots down the stretch.
“It’s not just because [of my performance], other guys stepped up as well during this game. Not [only] offensively [but] defensively,” said the third-year guard, who had 21 points and 9 rebounds.
“And we stick together, after the third quarter, we were down after a big lead…it’s all about sticking together as a team,” added Cortez, the son of La Salle legend and former PBA player Mike Cortez.
Escueta shared that the team picked up on Cortez’s relentless mentality.
“Everybody [was locked in], Peter (Alfaro), James Payosing, Yuki (Andrada), I saw their eyes, they really weren’t letting themselves lose,” said Escueta. — Rappler.com