The National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA) probably had one of the longest basketball seasons ever. The tournament ended Nov. 16, with the San Beda Red Lions beating the Letran Knights.
Unlike the rest of the season, the championship game—a fierce battle—was something to watch.
The Red Lions started off the season with a nail-biter of a win against De La Salle-College of St. Benilde Blazers. It was an alley-oop buzzer beater.
The Red Lions walked all over their opponents the rest of the season, although they had their fair share of upsets—in the hands of the Lyceum Pirates, Mapua Institute of Technology Cardinals and Letran Knights.
The Red Lions and the Knights had been in a season-long tug-of-war for the top spot of the elimination round. It was eventually won by San Beda, who clinched the top spot for the eighth season in a row.
Four-peat or forfeit?
Toward the end of the elimination round, however, there were allegations that San Beda’s Ryusei Koga played in another league while the NCAA was ongoing.
Such allegations were not proven, and the investigation was not conclusive.
Speculations that San Beda would drop to fourth place in the standings also spread. But such news neither dampened the spirits of the players nor diffused their focus on the task at hand.
Though lacking the services of veteran Koga, the Red Lions dismantled the University of Perpetual Help Altas in their final-four battle.
Social media was abuzz after the date was set for the top-seeded teams of the NCAA to meet. Both camps expressed their confidence that they would claim the trophy in the 89th NCAA season.
Just like any fan, I also found it hard to get some sleep the day before the first game.
Game 1 was a seesaw battle until late in the fourth quarter. The Red Lions of Mendiola edged out the Knights of Muralla after Baser Amer led a rally, with Roldan Sara and Yvan Ludovice, with a barrage of three-point baskets.
This was when Letran’s star point guard Mark Cruz was forced to sit it out due to an injury. That certainly contributed to the late game loss of the Knights, 80-68.
Despite the injury, Cruz, with Raymund Almazan, the Philippine Basketball Association’s third overall draft pick, led the way for Letran in Game 2. It was again a tough battle that was decided in the fourth canto. However, during the furious run, Almazan went down several times and had to skip practice the next day. By winning Game 2, 79-75, the Letran Knights were able to force a Game 3, the winner-take-all meeting with the three-time defending champion Red Lions.
The lengthy season was extended.
Much like in the other two previous games, both teams were in a fierce battle. San Beda would build a lead, and the Knights would recover and enjoy a lead.
Unlike the lackluster season, this final game was truly a great championship match. Again, this game was decided in the final moments. Arthur de la Cruz and Ola Adeogun led the way for the battle-hardened Red Lions. Both men were key to the Lions’ victory.
De la Cruz was unstoppable on offense; Adeogun defined the game’s outcome when he made the crucial defensive stop with 1.7 seconds left. That snuffed any glimmer of hope for Letran.
San Beda won, 60-56. The victory came after the 20-0 sweep by the San Beda Red Cubs, their fifth straight victory in the juniors division.
It was a double championship for San Beda.
There was action on the court and also at the bleachers. The teams battled it out, and so did their camps, cheering and drumming. The fans tried to do everything they could to cheer, despite the strict rules of the venue.
There were, however, several hecklers who, against the spirit of sportsmanship, uttered hateful and racist comments.
One person was photographed trying to act like a monkey—a jeer against a player of San Beda. We hope such boorishness will not be tolerated next time.
The meeting of these two teams had long been predicted even before the start of the season.
As the season concluded, with the victory of the Red Lions, we saw how the lengthy and generally boring season had an exciting end. We hope the coming NCAA season will be more like these games.