In what was supposed to be a matchup between two heavyweights, the NCAA finals Game 1 turned out to be a cakewalk for the defending champions.
The San Beda Red Lions took full advantage of the absence of CJ Perez and secured a 73-60 victory over the Lyceum Pirates Tuesday at the Mall of Asia Arena.
San Beda is now one win away from winning its third straight championship and 22nd league title overall.
"Well I think, without CJ, their effort probably went down," said head coach Boyet Fernandez, but quickly added. "But again, even without CJ, we defeated them by just 13 points."
Javee Mocon powered San Beda with a double-double outing of 14 points and 10 rebounds. Lead guard Robert Bolick controlled the offense for his squad with 12 points and nine assists.
The 6-foot-3 Perez was suspended in Game 1 after failing to notify the NCAA of his PBA Draft application. Without his scoring, playmaking, and leadership, the Pirates were simply no match against the San Beda juggernaut.
The Red Lions unloaded a 19-9 opening salvo, taking control of the game in the first period. They hunkered down on defense while playing efficient basketball on the other end.
"We really had to control the tempo because we can't play up and down against LPU," said Fernandez. "Again, we just have to manage and take care of the basketball. If we do that, it will give us a chance to win."
Leading by as many as 27 points, San Beda was hardly threatened throughout the contest until a late surge by Lyceum. The Pirates were able to cut the deficit to just 10 points with roughly a minute remaining. The momentum slowly shifted for the Pirates but that only gave the Red Lions an opportunity to show their championship pedigree. Needing a basket, Bolick drove straight to the basket, drew the defense, and dished out the last moment to a wide-open Joe Presbitero for a huge triple to push the lead back to 13 points.
The Red Lions forced 19 turnovers on the Pirates and converted them to 21 points. Their three-point shooting also proved critical as they hit 10-of-29 from beyond the arc.
Mike Nzeusseu had 16 points and 14 rebounds for the Pirates while twins Jaycee and Jayvee Marcelino chipped in with 13 points apiece.
Even with Perez coming back for the Pirates in Game 2, Fernandez and his team will look to have the same mindset.
"If it's not broken, why fix it? We only knew that CJ was not going to play only yesterday. So we're still going to continue what we're doing," Fernandez noted. "Again, I give credit to my boys because they did a good job today. I was a bit worried about what kind of effort they will show because CJ is not there, but they still showed up and played." San Beda will look to capture another title come Game 2 next Monday, November 12.
SAN BEDA 73 - Mocon 14, Bolick 12, Doliguez 11, Tankoua 10, Cabanag 8, Canlas 6, Oftana 4, Presbitero 3, Nelle 3, Cuntapay 2, Soberano 0, Abuda 0, Eugene 0, Tongco 0, Carino 0
LPU 60 - Nzeusseu 16, Marcelino JC 13, Marcelino JV 13, Ayaay 9, Caduyac 5, Valdez 2, Yong 2, Ibanez 0, Pretta 0, Santos 0, Tansingco 0, Serrano 0, Lumbao 0
QUARTER SCORES: 19-9, 43-22, 59-39, 73-60