NCAA Finals Game 1: What Letran Did Right, What San Beda Didnít

Migs Bustos on Oct 26, 2015 01:16 PM
What Letran Did Right, What San Beda Didn't
Kevin Raval had the game of his life for Letran in Game One as he scored a season-high 28 points, six rebounds and five assists.

Fifteen thousand plus filled in the Mall of Asia Arena with die-hard and purist basketball fans. Even though the rivalry had four meetings this season, it seemed like every game mattered so much more. As San Beda currently had a slim lead in their match-up prior to this game, it added fire to the Intramuros-based faithful as they showed the opposing side that they were never going to back down.

True enough, Game One of the finals proved that the Mall Of Asia Arena is Manila’s “grind house”. It was a dogfight, each side trading baskets one after the other, with 12 lead changes. And up until the last 1:43, the game was tied at 85. At this moment, the old saying can be applied: “This is where you separate the boys from the men.” That is what the Knights showed us in the clutch moments, and made a mark by grabbing Game One.

Below are Letran’s key points to success and San Beda’s setbacks in Game One

What Letran did

Hungry Like A Viking

Being down in their season series 1-2, the Knights did not allow themselves to fall short again for the third straight time. They came out with fire as soon as they came out of the dugout, perhaps the presence of the eight-time world boxing champion and team manager boosted (understatement) their confidence. With this kind of hunger that they were carrying inside their pockets, they gained their momentum early and led as much as 10 points nearing the second quarter.

Role Players Came Out To Play

No one can doubt what the intangible guys can contribute for Coach Aldin. Even though they don’t score as much, their presence give so much more. Mcjour Luib, who averaged six points prior to Game 1, waxed hot and finished with 16 points. Jom Sollano was key in the first half, scoring seven and responsible for keeping his team close. The other big man in Bong Quinto was not a factor in scoring, but went Vlade Divac mode because he was a big on defense and playmaking, grabbing five boards and dishing out five assists.

Strengthened Their Defense

As our colleague in the broadcast panel Andrei Felix likes to call the Knights “Suicide Squad”, their Mayhem defense was evident all throughout the game. The Knights’ backcourt defense was one of the biggest reasons why they won that game, with their eyes ready to eat the opponent alive. They forced the Red Lions to be tentative in breaking the press and setting their offense.

On the other hand, Ola Adeogun had 23, but he bled for those points. The big man assigned to him all had to do was to “front” him (and the other bigs) on defense, meaning staying in front of the Nigerian in a box out position, doing their best to deny the pass from a teammate to give the ball down low to Ola.

Kevin Racal. Period.

K-Racs finished Game One with a season-high of 28 points, six rebounds and five assists to put icing on the cake. The Lions defense had a hard time stopping him as he hit it from everywhere. He splashed four threes, went to the line seven times, made his perimeter J’s, finished fast breaks, etcetera, etcetera. No doubt, the pro-bound Racal was able to do everything to lift up his team with the important win.

Outwit, Outplay, Outlast

If there’s one thing that the Knights showed us this season, they showed us that they were survivors. Remember that during the first round against the San Sebastian, Letran trailed by as much as 13, but forced the Stags to 42 turnovers and made a late game run in the fourth to steal the game. Their second round match against LPU was also a tough one as the Pirates would not let go. The answer was Mark Cruz who hit a barrage of threes in the fourth to finally create separation. Also no lead is safe for any team as they proved that against the Chiefs during “Judgement Day” last September 25. Letran was trailing by 11, 65-76 in the last 5:18 of the fourth when Rey Nambatac and Mark Cruz exploded endlessly for that 22-5 run to end the game.

Letran closed out the first quarter of Game One leading by two, but trailed at the end of the second and third quarter. According to ABS-CBN Sports’ chief statistician Pong Ducanes, San Beda is 15-3 this season after leading three quarters. Good odds, but Letran has proven to opponents that stat does not matter.

Outwit: As breaks of the game played a very key factor, San Beda’s missed free throws, forced turnovers and the biggest one at that was the Adeogun mishap when he brought down the ball court to court. The Letran defense knew that that was the opportunity that they were waiting for and immediately got the ball from him.

In the final play when Nambatac got the ball in the corner, he knew he had to make a quick move before getting trapped in there. The second he got away, the only option for him was to go hard without fear and hesitation. No help defense, dagger basket for Sting-Rey.

Outplayed: Letran’s big three came out on fire with Racal’s 28, Nambatac’s 17, and the Ant-Man’s 16 compared to the other big three. Ola had 23, but San Beda got sub-par numbers from Baser with eight and Art with seven. Combined big three totals?  Letran 61, San Beda 38. Enough said.

Outlasted: Letran’s character for being a clutch team was very evident in the fourth. When Soberano, Nambatac, Amer, Luib were making their threes respectively in the dying minutes, the Knights hung on after to a 3-point 83-80 lead and never let go of their advantage. Letran made sure that they scored on every possession they had in order for the Lions not to make go ahead baskets. Kevin Racal was responsible for that, stretching the lead to four, 89-85 as he made the biggest offensive rebound and putback of his career. The Knights never looked back. 


What San Beda was not able to do

Not Enough Coating

The big men of the Red Lions are known to dominate inside. In fact, they are number one in the league in scoring inside that area, averaging 44.7 ppg. In the playoff match for first, Adeogun, Mocon and Tankoua dominated in that end and contributed to the 50 inside points of the Lions, one of the biggest reasons why they controlled that game. In Game One however, they were -12 in that aspect and was not to capitalize as much in the painted area.

Ball Control and Execution

The astonishing defense of Letran did not fret and pretty much set the tempo for that game. The system forced the Bedans to 28 turnovers (26 in the playoff match), something that the team still yet has to fully master in terms of adjustments in lowering turnovers. The never-say-die bigs in Apreku, Sollano, Quinto forced their counterparts to 18 giveaways, which gave them 28 TO points. The most crucial one at that was the final turnover by the big man Adeogun which could have tied them the game at 90.

Art Was Neither Big Nor The Machine

For the past two games, Art De La Cruz was not his usual self, averaging less than his usual double-double numbers (18 ppg, 10 rpg, 6apg). After his struggles in their final four game against JRU, I personally did not expect that he would have a repeat performance of that in Game One.  This is the Finals, he was the Finals MVP in Season 89, seven points, five rebounds and an assist won’t cut it. For them to win Game Two, his presence should be running on all ends of the court. That machine has to be gassed up and oiled well for the whole unit to function.

The Hammer Was Missing

Similar with the Big Red Machine under achieving, Baser NEEDS to bring out the “Hammer” by pounding on early in the game. He scored six points in the fourth but only finished with eight. Yes, his leadership and presence were evident by getting his younger teammates more touches, giving out eight assists at that. Though, he has to score, plain and simple. He was a little on the passive end since he got back from his shoulder injury and things have been working well, but it was not enough in Game One. The Season 88 finals MVP needs to be present right now and to mark his territory, no more holding back.

Misplaced Identity

With their backs against the wall, the Red Lions really have to dig deep in the lost and found section and find that sense of urgency. Letran’s intensity and desire were off the charts which Amer and Co. had trouble finding ways to match. No stats shall be basis for this. Whether they still shot good at 41% or outrebounded the opponent, 51-37, none of those matter if the fire and willingness to win are not present. Where was the hunger, gigil and roar of the Red Lions when they needed it the most? Good thing for them they still have another shot at redemption. With Letran’s one foot inside the door, it is only up to San Beda if they will let the Knights inside and lock them out.

With a statement win by Letran, I firmly believe that this can STILL be a three-game series. The Red Lions cannot and shall not be defined by their sub-par performance in Game One. They are still the defending champions, the defending five at that. With Letran’s hunger to win a title since it last won 10 years ago, San Beda’s driving force will be to make history. Remember that no team in collegiate basketball has done or has the opportunity to make that feat. San Beda is two wins away from a historical 6-peat and they’re not just going to hand it to Letran that easily.

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