DEFENDING three-time champion San Beda found Mapua a tough nut to crack, settling for a 69-60 victory to complete a perfect first round yesterday in the NCAA men's basketball tournament at the Cuneta Astrodome.
The Red Lions were only able to put fight out of the Cardinals in the payoff period behind the trio of Calvin Oftana, James Canlas and Donald Tankoua to stretch their unbeaten run to nine games.
"Mas mahirap ang tatahakin namin ngayon. If you see what Mapua did to us, it was a perfect gameplan for Mapua. They stayed close to us. I think this is a lesson for everyone in this team of San Beda. We have to prepare every game. We don't want to underestimate every team," said coach Boyet Fernandez.
"I hope this (game) is a wake-up call for every player. That this season is not an easy one for us. We were lucky that we made some stops in the fourth quarter," he added.
Oftana capped a scintillating first round performance with 24 points, 12 rebounds and five assists, Tankoua had 10 points, nine boards and four assists while Canlas also scored 10 points to go with five rebounds and three assists for the Lions.
While San Beda is pulling away from the rest of the field, the Final Four chase has started to heat up with four teams bunched from second to fifth spots at 6-3.
Letran halted a two-game slide with a 88-64 dismantling of College of Saint Benilde to tie its victims, idle Lyceum of the Philippines University and San Sebastian, a 85-79 winner over Arellano University in the last game of the first round.
"We are happy that we are ahead by three games but we know that bilog ang bola. There are teams that are close to each other," said Fernandez.
"The position that we had right now, we are happy that we are there. We will take every advantage that we had right now especially that we are up three games against the teams behind us," he added.
With tougher second round battles looming, Knights coach Bonnie Tan are ready on what lies ahead, especially that every game counts from now on.
"We take it one game at a time. We now treat every game as a championship game, iyon ang sinasabi ko sa mga players. We should give our best," said Tan.
Jerrick Balanza celebrated his 23rd birthday in style, as the Letran skipper came through with 26 points on 8-of-13 shooting.
It has been exactly a year today since Balanza was diagnosed with a tumor in his temporal lobe of the brain that all of the NCAA rallied around him.
The 6-foot-2 shooting guard from Tondo, Manila has eventually emerged triumphant from that episode, ready to help the Knights win another championship in his final year.
"Sobrang saya ko kasi binigyan ako ng isa pa at sana marami pang sumunod. Mina-maximize ko lang kung ano ang meron ako ngayon," said Balanza.
Allyn Bulanadi had 22 points, six assists and four boards while JM Calma added 17 points, including a key basket in the last 33 seconds that gave the Stags the 81-79 lead.
"The key is everybody is playing together," said coach Egay Macaraya after San Sebastian won its third straight victory.
Kendrix Belgica had 12 points and seven rebounds for the Blazers, who lost three of the last four contests.
The Cardinals, meanwhile, had their three-game winning streak snapped and will bring a 3-6 card in the second round.
In juniors play, Justin Sanchez shot 20 points as San Beda downed Mapua, 88-77, to finish the first round with a league-best 8-1 mark.
Letran (88) -- Balanza 26, Batiller 10, Olivario 7, Muyang 7, Caralipio 6, Yu 6, Ular 6, Balagasay 6, Ambohot 5, Reyson 5, Mina 2, Sangalang 2, Javillonar 0, Guarino 0.
CSB (64) -- Belgica 12, Haruna 8, Naboa 7, Flores 7, Carlos 7, Nayve 6, Sangco 5, Lepalam 5, Gutang 3, Young 3, Leutcheu 1, Dixon 1, Velasco 0, Mosqueda 0.
Quarterscores: 25-15, 46-35, 73-49, 88-64
San Beda (69) - Oftana 24, Canlas 10, Tankoua 10, Abuda 7, Bahio 5, Cariño 4, Nelle 3, Doliguez 3, Soberano 3, Etrata 0, Alfaro 0, Noah 0.
Mapua (60) - Hernandez 16, Lugo 13, Gonzales 11, Bonifacio 7, Buñag 4, Gamboa 4, Victoria 2, Serrano 2, Salenga 1, Jabel 0.
Quarterscores: 16-16, 30-28, 49-45, 69-60
SSC-R (85) -- Bulanadi 22, Calma 17, Ilagan 12, Desoyo 8, Capobres 6, Cosari 5, Villapando 4, Tero 3, Dela Cruz 2, Sumoda 2, Isidro 2, Calahat 2, Altamirano 0.
Arellano (79) -- Salado 13, Arana 13, Bayla 12, Sablan 9, Oliva 9, Talampas 5, Gayosa 5, Sacramento 5, Concepcion 4, Espiritu 2, De Guzman 2, Alcoriza 0, Segura 0, Sunga 0.
Quarterscores: 24-20, 49-37, 64-54, 85-79