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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.”

Clint Escamis.–MARLO CUETO/INQUIRER.net

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.

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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.