This appears in the Monday, May 9, 2016 edition of the Business Mirror.
On that Letran win over Lyceum: The Hunters and the Hunted
by rick olivares
Even if they speak in hushed tones, the Letran Knights hear it… that they just got lucky in beating the San Beda Red Lions for last season’s NCAA championship. That the calls were biased for them. Yadda yadda yadda.
“I think it serves as motivation for us as a team,” said fourth year swingman Rey Nambatac rather proudly. “We know we worked hard for that accomplishment. And we’ll work even harder now.”
And they did have to do that.
Against the veteran and hungry for respect Lyceum of the Philippines University, now stablized under second year coach Topex Robinson, it was the Pirates who somewhat turned the tables on Letran. It was a shocking sight to see the Pirates press the Knights and wreak havoc.
With under two minutes to play in the first period, LPU’s Dexter Zamora forced Letran point guard JP Calvo to turn the ball over for the second consecutive time. Zamora looked Calvo in the eye and let out an exultant “woo!” On the opposite end, Zamora drove hard but missed a layup. With his enthusiasm undampened, the Pirates' guard went back and shadowed Calvo.
New Letran head coach Jeff Napa sent in back up court general Matthew Bernabe however, he too was forced into a turnover and a foul.
To compound matters, Paul Serafica who was a teammate of Letran’s Rey Nambatac and McJour Luib in the juniors team years ago, was making things happen for LPU.
At the end of a Letran timeout, Knights assistant coach Chico Manabat called out to the Knights, “Watch out for the press.”
Letran handled the next possession quite well and although the Knights seized the lead for good in the last six minutes, they were continuously harried by the Pirates who forced six turnovers in the final period and could have made a better game of it had they converted their chances.
The Pirates tried to batter Letran from the inside behind hulking center Joseph Gabayni (12 points, seven rebounds, and one block) and the two Pauls — Serafica and Soliman — who combined for 15 points. Luckily for Letran, African player Harry Nzeusseu isn’t polished the way former player Victor Nguidjol, who although he watched the game from the stands, isn’t with the team anymore as he is now in the NBA D-League.
Letran got an early break when Gabayni was called for three early fouls — two that were highly questionable at most — that forced him to sit for extended stretches (he played only 15 minutes). That sort of evened up the playing field for the height-challeneged boys of Jeff Napa.
The Knights, not as deep this year as they were last season, got two huge boosts to put away Lyceum. First was do-it-all-forward Bong Quinto. Although not as athletic as Kevin Racal who has since moved up to the PBA, Quinto is craftier. Though undersized at six-foot-one, Quinto knows how to position himself for those rebounds and can side step for twisting layups. He’s blessed with terrific court vision (second only to Mark Cruz who has since graduated to the PBA as well) and is one tough SOB.
Against Lyceum, he almost single-handedly carried the Knights in the second quarter where he tallied 10 points, two assists, two steals, one rebound, and one block, as Letran took the half, 49-47. He continued in the second half where he added eight points, seven boards, and one more steal.
Then Quinto turned into over to Nambatac who hit two triples and had a crucial layup in the dying minutes of the game.
The masters of the hellacious full court pressure defense emerged triumphant over LPU, 89-84, for their first win of the Filoil Flying V Premier Cup.
“I think it will be the same for every game this season” said a weary Nambatac after the match. "We saw that Lyceum did their homework and gave us a hard time. In some ways, we got lucky too. We know that other teams will be coming hard at us because they want to take the championship from us.”
After the Lyceum Pirates made their way out of the Filoil Flying V Centre, head coach Topex Robinson, mildly shook his head. “We had our chances but we weren’t able to make good on them. Hopefully, our players will learn from this and catch them next time.”