San Beda’s Finals fate: Suffer 2009 downfall or repeat of 1977 magic?

MANILA, Philippines – For the first time in 6 years, San Beda College’s back is against the wall in a best-of-3 championship series as the Red Lions lost the first game of the NCAA Season 91 Finals against Colegio de San Juan de Letran.

Letran handed a 94-90 loss to San Beda on Friday, October 23 in the Finals’ Game 1 that highlighted a scorching shootout between two rival schools down the stretch.

Since the introduction of the best-of-3 championship format in the late 1970’s, San Beda finds itself in an unlikely situation as the Red Lions had never lost a Game 1 in the previous 3 NCAA title showdowns versus Letran.

However, the Mendiola-based brigade has previously undergone a 0-1 scenario with different opponents and dissimilar outcomes.

Stag party in 2009

San Beda was looking for its fourth-straight NCAA basketball crown in 2009 when San Sebastian College-Recoletos spoiled the red-and-white troop’s bid by sweeping the Red Lions in two games.

Former PBA player Ato Agustin guided the Golden Stags to the Promised Land and fielded swingman Jimbo Aquino and then-unknown rookie Calvin Abueva to operate his frontline unit.

San Sebastian edged out San Beda in an exhilarating double overtime with a 72-68 conquest in Game 1 before the Golden Stags overpowered the Red Lions with a 76-61 shutout to walk away with the coveted title.

1977 Finals bounce back against Ateneo

Although Ateneo de Manila University drew first blood in the 1977 best-of-3 finals series, San Beda bounced back on a strong note to win the succeeding games and take home the NCAA men’s seniors basketball trophy.

Under the tutelage of legendary coach Virgilio “Baby” Dalupan, Ateneo came out on top of San Beda with a 105-99 victory and leaned on Steve Watson’s 47-point outburst.

San Beda avenged the loss by beating Ateneo, 71-68, in a fan violence-marred Game 2 that prompted the NCAA policy board to hold Game 3 behind closed doors of the Araneta Coliseum.

As San Beda’s core lineup consisted of Chito Loyzaga, Chuck Barreiro, Jayvee Yango, Louie Brill, Cholo Martin, Frankie Lim and the Guzman twins during that period, the Red Lions finished the job against their original hard-court rivals with a 77-75 win after Pons Valdez's last shot for Ateneo was overruled as the time expired.

Game 1 woes of San Beda against Letran

One of the biggest factors that led to San Beda’s Game 1 setback versus Letran was the 29 turnovers that the Red Lions committed in the championship contest.

In addition, the Knights from Muralla were able to convert 25 points from San Beda’s turnover woes.

“We had too many turnovers. We had our chances and we weren’t able to execute and I take the blame for it. I failed to coach the right way,” San Beda head coach Jamike Jarin stated in the post-game interview.

To compound the misery, Baser Amer and Art Dela Cruz were limited in their scoring output as the two finished with 8 and 7 points respectively.

Jarin was quick to point at Letran's full-court pressure defense, which gave the graduating duo of Amer and Dela Cruz problems.

“You have to give credit to Letran for the way they defended the two. But like what I said, I failed to prepare these boys for Game 1,” he said.

The first-year coach stressed that his boys should play smart for Game 2 to avoid a sweep by Letran and force a deciding Game 3.

“We need to take care of the ball, and I need to coach better,” Jarin said. “We just need to play smarter because there were a couple of plays that we didn’t play smart. It cost us the lead and a chance to get back.”

Despite dropping the first outing of NCAA title tilt, Jarin remains optimistic about San Beda’s chances against Letran in Game 2.

“We just need to gather our senses back, play again as a team and compete for 40 minutes for us get a win and extend it to a Game 3,” he articulated.

On the other hand, Letran mentor Aldin Ayo looks to wrap things up in Game 2 as the Knights are now one step closer to its first NCAA title since 2005.

“I am expecting the same effort and same energy from San Beda,” he vowed. “But we are going to finish this off.”

Ayo, who suited up for Letran during its back-to-back title run from 1998 to 1999, knows that it will be a tough task to hamper San Beda’s campaign to accomplish a record-setting sixth-straight NCAA championship.

“We know it’s going to be a tough game and it’s going to be a dogfight. We just have to be tough and grab this opportunity because not all players are given this opportunity,” he stressed.

Game 2 will take place on Tuesday, October 27 at the SM Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City, while Game 3 is set on Thursday, October 29 if necessary at the same playing venue. –