After their respective teams’ exits in NCAA Season 98, coaches Yuri Escueta of San Beda University and Gilbert Malabanan of Lyceum of the Philippines University weighed in on the looming title showdown between De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde and Colegio de San Juan de Letran.
For Escueta, he thinks the Blazers can go all the way. The rookie tactician, even after his Red Lions were dealt a Final Four loss by Benilde, said the wards of head coach Charles Tiu play well within their system, both on offense and defense.
Escueta also highlighted one of Benilde’s strengths: its depth. Led by the usual suspects in Will Gozum and Migs Oczon, and with ample support from the likes of Miggy Corteza, Robi Nayve, JC Cullar, Mark Sangco, Jimboy Pasturan, and others, the Blazers have more than enough in their arsenal to potentially spoil Letran’s three-peat bid.
“Tingin ko CSB. Aside from being well-coached, you could see how their players bought in to their system, defensively and offensively, and they have guys that can make tough shots,” Escueta shared.
“They have talented players in Gozum and Oczon and (a depth of) players who know how to do their role.”
Malabanan, meanwhile, played coy. For the Pirates’ tactician, both teams have what it takes to bring home the title, making him think the series will reach a winner-take-all Game 3.
Letran is the reigning back-to-back champion after emerging victorious in Seasons 95 and 97. Although some of their key players have already bid the school goodbye, the Knights remain as dangerous as ever.
Bannered by veterans Fran Yu, Louie Sangalang, King Caralipio, Tommy Olivario, and Brent Paraiso, the Muralla squad also has crucial players in Kurt Reyson, Pao Javillonar, Kobe Monje, and Rafael Go.
“Actually, they are both good teams. Letran has experience on a championship and Benilde naman is doing good so I think it’s gonna be an exciting Finals,” said Malabanan, whose team was eliminated by Letran.
“I think baka umabot pa nga ng Game 3 sa ganda eh.”
The teams will begin their title series in Game 1 of the Finals on Sunday, 3 p.m., at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Watch the game live on GMA and via livestream at the social media accounts of NCAA Philippines and GMA Sports PH.
—JMB, GMA Integrated News
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