Nigerian import Allwell Oraeme proved why he’s the reigning league MVP, powering Mapua to a thrilling come-from-behind 74-71 victory over Jose Rizal U on Saturday to gain a share of the early lead in the 92nd NCAA seniors basketball tourney at the Mall of Asia Arena.
The 6-foot-9 Oraeme, as expected, asserted himself down the lane with game-highs of 24 points, 17 rebounds and four blocks on top of three assists while anchoring the Cardinals’ suffocating defense in the payoff canto that allowed them to overhaul a 64-6 deficit.
More importantly, Mapua immediately set its title-bid in motion while joining fellow opening-day winner, host San Beda, atop the 10-team standings. The Red Lions defeated defending champion and archrival Letran 89-85 earlier.
“I have more confidence on myself right now because my teammates look up to me and, like CJ, I have to lead the team,” Oraeme told sports scribes during the post-game press conference. “I have to come here every game to play with confidence and stay focused.”
With Oraeme leading the way, the Cardinals appear to be a shoo-in for a return trip to the Final Four round.
But Mapua’s fourth-year coach Atoy Co isn’t eager to look that far ahead.
“No, I don’t want to think about it yet,” he said, refusing to give the Cardinals any chance to fall into any sense of complacency.
“I keep on telling them that all the teams are strong. I don’t want to put in our heads that we can make it to the Final Four surely. We have to take it one game at a time,” Co added. – By Jerome Lagunzad
Follow this writer on Twitter: @JLFoxSports