Old foes San Beda, Letran renew heated rivalry in NCAA Finals
MANILA, Philippines – The 65-year-old rivalry between San Beda College and Colegio de San Juan de Letran will be reignited once more as both schools are set to face each other in the NCAA Season 91 Finals, beginning on Friday, October 23 at SM Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City.
San Beda is aiming for a record-setting sixth-straight NCAA basketball championship and its ninth title in 10 years. Letran is entering the championship round of the country's oldest collegiate league for the first time since 2013 and hasn’t won an NCAA title since 2005.
The Red Lions earned their entry to the Finals after finishing Jose Rizal University, 78-68, on Tuesday, October 22 behind the gutsy effort of young gunslinger AC Soberano, who registered 10 points, 4 rebounds, one assist and one steal.
Helping Soberano on the offensive end were Baser Amer and Roldan Sara, who also played a pivotal role in San Beda’s victory over JRU by contributing 11 markers apiece.
Also that day, Letran sealed a date with San Beda in the Finals by thumping Mapua Institute of Technology with a 91-90 escape in a jittery semifinal faceoff.
Mark Cruz scored 24 points, including a huge basket that gave Letran an 87-83 edge with 1:31 remaining in the fourth canto.
Kevin Racal finished with 19 markers and 12 boards, while Rey Nambatac also had a double-double feat by hauling 12 points and 11 rebounds for Letran.
A rivalry renewed
The heated rivalry started on October 28, 1950 when the “Murder Inc.” duo of Lauro “The Fox” Mumar and Herminio "Togay" Astorga steered Letran to an NCAA seniors title over the Carlos “Caloy” Loyzaga-led San Beda.
During that period, Letran was on the verge of sweeping the double-round elimination tournament to bag the top prize outright as the Final Four format was not yet implemented, but San Beda spoiled it to arrange a championship showdown with the Knights.
Known for its merciless brand of basketball, Letran avenged the setback by beating San Beda in the finals and captured its second championship in the league.
Following the aforementioned match-up, San Beda kept on winning championships until 1978, which included taking home the coveted Crispulo Zamora Cup in 1955.
As San Beda shied away from the championship spotlight, Letran peaked in the 1980’s as a powerhouse team and captured 11 NCAA basketball titles since then.
San Beda and Letran were not the original arch-nemesis of the Philippine collegiate hard-court. The Red Lions were matched up against Ateneo de Manila University, highlighting the fierce faceoff between Loyzaga and Francisco “Frankie” Rabat.
Letran faced off with De La Salle University on numerous occasions, and the rivalry came to a climax on August 16, 1980 when the bleacher section of the Rizal Memorial Coliseum turned into bedlam, with supporters of both schools engaged in an all-out altercation.
Ateneo’s departure from the league in 1978, and La Salle’s follow-up exit from the NCAA in 1981 led to more exciting competition between San Beda and Letran, which died down slowly as the Red Lions went through a 28-year championship drought.
San Beda returned to prominence by routing Philippine Christian University in 2006 to win the NCAA title.
In 2007, San Beda got a measure of revenge for its disappointing defeat in the finals 57 years earlier by sweeping Letran in a best-of-3 encounter.
Since the 2007 finals showdown, San Beda has beaten Letran in the championship round twice - in 2012 and 2013 - with both series stretching to a decisive game 3.
Familiar foes in Season 91 Finals
In this year’s regular season, San Beda crossed paths with Letran thrice, with the Knights slaying the Red Lions with three-pointers to claim a 93-80 triumph on July 16 before the latter settled the score with a 77-73 conquest on October 6.
San Beda handed another loss to Letran, 83-78, in a tiebreaking contest for the top seed on October 13.
Aside from the longstanding rivalry, this season’s Finals will see two rookie coaches going head-to-head in executing plays from the bench.
When asked about the match-up with Letran in the Finals, San Beda head coach Jamike Jarin promptly replied, “It’s going to be interesting.”
Jarin is known for his smooth-flowing ball rotation on the court and utilizing every player in his 15-man roster.
In the semi-final meeting against JRU, San Beda’s bench combined for 47 points and sparked the decisive 26-10 blitz that turned an eight-point third-quarter deficit into a 66-58 cushion with 5:35 left in the final frame.
Although JRU kept its starters on the floor in the fourth period, Jarin opted to field his second unit to finish the game.
“Start of the season, people criticized me too much for playing 15 players every game. I have been criticized for that,” Jarin stated. “But I have done this from time immemorial. I think everybody is not going to criticize me anymore as the bench delivered.”
Meanwhile, Letran mentor Aldin Ayo is famous for his pressure defense and fourth-quarter rally that he was able to pull it off against high-profile squadrons such as San Beda, Mapua, JRU, Arellano University and University of Perpetual Help System Dalta all season long.
After Letran’s victory over Mapua, Ayo admitted that he and his dirty dozen keep their sights on a heftier prize.
“We can focus now on championship and we really want to win it. We are not satisfied if we’re not going to capture this year’s crown,” he stressed. – Rappler.com