CENTRO Escolar University hopes to march on with just eight men as it takes on St. Clare today in the PBA D-League semifinals at the Paco Arena.
The undermanned Scorpions and the Saints meet at 2 p.m. as they start their best-of-three showdown.
“I don’t know of our chances. Hopefully, ma-sustain namin yung heart and yung intensity namin as a team,” said coach Derrick Pumaren after CEU pulled off an inspiring 84-74 win over Go for Gold in the quarterfinals decider last Thursday.
Top-ranked squads Cignal-Ateneo and City of Valencia Bukidnon-SSC-R also start ther own semis duel at 4 p.m.
Senegalese big man Malick Diouf will be the guy in the middle for CEU along with Rich Guinitaran and Franz Diaz, who became the team’s main offensive options after the school last week kicked out seven of its players from the team due to game-fixing allegations.
For St. Clare, the breakthrough Final Four appearance will boost its stock for the program.
“We want to show them that we’re a different team, that this time, we are more ready for them,” said coach Jinino Manansala, who steered the Saints to several NAASCU titles.
Junjie Hallare, Joshua Fontanilla and Ray Rubio will be the vital cogs for St. Clare, which eliminated Metropac-SBU, 65-60, in the quarterfinals last Tuesday.
The Blue Eagles are riding on a seven-game winning streak heading into the Final Four, and coach Tab Baldwin sure is happy with how his wards have responded late in the eliminations to top the Aspirants’ Group.
“Again, we’re using this as our preparations, but we’re happy to see that our players are running our system to a tee,” said assistant coach Sandy Arespacochaga after Cignal-Ateneo hammered out a 67-60 win over Cha Dao-FEU last Monday.
Ivorian center Ange Kouame has been on a tear as of late for the reigning UAAP champions Blue Eagles, with Thirdy Ravena and Isaac Go expected to make their presence felt in the semifinals opener.