Mired in a three-game losing streak, defending champion Letran is starting to feel additional pressure, with its top rivals enjoying a considerable gap.
That explains why Knights’ first-year coach Jeff Napa is treating Letran’s rematch with the rejuvenated Heavy Bombers of Jose Rizal U on Tuesday a “must-win game” as the race for the Top 4 spot in the 92nd NCAA seniors basketball tourney further heats up at The Arena in San Juan City.
Bundled with resurgent Lyceum from fifth to seventh spots with identical 5-5 marks, just a full-game behind fourth-running Mapua (6-4), Letran and JRU are in for a crucial showdown at 4 p.m., providing what could be a perfect main dish for a blockbuster triple-header.
And Napa couldn’t stress hard enough the importance of it.
“We’ll approach it like there is no tomorrow,” he said in an SMS message to FOX Sports. “We will do our best tomorrow (Tuesday) to get that ‘W.’”
While the Knights have been struggling, the Heavy Bombers have shown their full potential in the course of their big victories over San Beda, 79-73, last August 9 and Mapua, 65-60, last Thursday, giving JRU coach Vergel Meneses renewed hopes of making it back to a familiar destination.
Avenging a 62-67 defeat dealt by the Knights in their previous meeting last July 28 could be a big help in boosting the Heavy Bombers’ Final Four bid.
“Napakahirap ng posisyon na ganyan pero kailangan tanggapin. Pag-iisipan na lang namin kung paano kami makakapasok sa Final 4,” said Meneses, hoping his charges could relive the magic of their strong finish last year. “Hindi mo kasi masasabi kung mangyayari ulit ‘yung last year. Bihirang-bihira lang ‘yun.”
The way JRU’s prized backcourt duo of Teytey Teodoro and Paolo Pontejos has been playing to their full potential, notably on the defensive end, is also giving Meneses another reason to stay positive.
“Nag-ga-gamble na rin ako na pagsabayin sila,” he said. “Mahilig naman kasi ako sumugal ‘pag ganyan. Buti nagwo-work naman. Itong nakaraan, dumidepensa na rin naman sila.”
The desire that he’s long been searching for is finally being displayed by the Heavy Bombers, added Meneses.
“The desire to win, the willingness to sacrifice and share the ball, andu’n na. ‘Yun ang hindi ko makita nu’ng first round,” he stressed.
“Ayaw ko na pag-usapan yung first round. Kumbaga nightmare ‘yun. Hindi ko talaga alam bakit nagkaganun. Kaming mga coaches na figure out na namin kung ano ang problema—‘yung desire wala.” – By Jerome Lagunzad
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