Mapua Returns to NCAA Finals, Knocks Out Benilde as Top Seed
MANILA, Philippines—Two seasons ago, Mapua reached the NCAA Finals but only to get swept by a heavily favored Letran side.
On Tuesday, the Cardinals made their way back to the championship round after knocking off College of St. Benilde, 78-67, in the NCAA Season 99 men’s basketball tournament at Mall of Asia Arena.
The victory was another example of why Mapua is primed to finally end its long wait for a title, unlike its previous trip to the finals.
After all, the Cardinals, who are riding a seven-game winning streak, own the top seed for a reason.
“Ever since day one, I was already pushing Pao (Hernandez). Even at the beginning of the preseason, we’re already trying to be first in practice. I always try to reel him in to do extra work and I’m happy that we’re here in a situation where all our hard work and trust for each other are paying off,” said guard and MVP frontrunner Clint Escamis.
Mapua is now just two victories away from a championship but Escamis knows that the Cardinals still have much work to do for them to get there.
“Our mission is still not done. 32 years [without a title], so this is also for coach Randy (Alcantara), coach Yong (Garcia) and the Mapua community. This is for them.”
Paolo Hernandez and Escamis scored 22 and 21 points, respectively, while also hitting four 3-pointers each.
It was Hernandez who played hero for Alcantara in the dying moments of the game.
After being caught in a neck-and-neck affair with the Blazers for the whole game, the Cardinals found themselves down by one, 65-64, in the fourth quarter after an and-one play by Migs Oczon after a layup.
But that’s when Hernandez took over as he switched to higher gear and went on a personal 7-0 run to put Mapua in the driver’s seat, 71-65. with 3:16 to go.
Marc Cuenco, who finished with 10 points, sank a triple for a 74-67 cushion at the 2:33 mark that proved to be the dagger for the Cardinals.
Migs Oczon finished with 17 points and six rebounds in the CSB loss while Will Gozum had nine points and seven rebounds in his final collegiate game.