BY REYNALD MAGALLON
Expect fireworks and lots of physicality as San Beda and Mapua collide for the last Finals spot in their sudden-death match Wednesday at the FilOil Flying V Arena in San Juan.
The Red Lions hope to ride the momentum of their thrilling 73-67 overtime win last Sunday which forced the do-or-die match but the Cardinals are equally eager to close things out in their second try to make it back to the Finals after 30 years.
The enjoyed a twice-to-beat advantage for finishing No. 2 at the end of the elims.
Tip-off of the crucial clash is at 4 p.m. with the winner getting the right to challenge defending champion Letran in the best-of-3 title series.
Although the Red Lions exacted their revenge to the same team that dropped them to the third seed in the elimination and in the play-in round, head coach Boyet Fernandez believes his team hasn’t achieved anything yet especially that they are still fighting for their dear lives in the crucial encounter.
“We just tied them. With the way you saw the game, I think we’re still the underdog due to the fact that we just came back from 10 points down in the last seven minutes so we still feel that we really have some things to improve,” said Fernandez.
The Red Lions narrowly escaped elimination in their first game behind the efforts of Ralph Penuela and James Kwekuteye. Penuela unloaded all of his 13 points in the final frame and in the extra period, including the put back layup that sent the game to extra period.
Kwekuteye, meanwhile, battled through pain due ti an ankle injury and delivered key baskets down the stretch to also finish with 17 points.
On the other hand, the Cardinals also look to correct some errors especially in the end game when Brian Lacap and Paolo Hernandez missed crucial free throws in regulation that could have sealed their spot to the Finals for the first time since 1992.
Warren Bonifacio, who finished with 18 points, is expected to lead Mapua anew but will need more contributions from the likes of Lacap, Hernandez and Nocum to overcome the mighty Red Lions.
Meantime, Mapua and San Beda Student Councils have urged their live student audiences to wear black shirts in today’s sudden-death.
The call came as a sign of protests in light of the partial and unofficial results of the 2022 Presidential and Vice-Presidential elections where the Uniteam tandem of Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. and Sara Duterte lead the presidential and vice presidential contests, respectively.