With San Beda University on the wrong end of a twice-to-beat advantage in the Final Four of the NCAA Season 99 Seniors Basketball Tournament, Jacob Cortez fully embraced his role as King Lion and led the Red Lions to an 89-68 blowout upset over the Lyceum Pirates.
Cortez methodically picked apart anything the Pirates’ defense threw at him, scoring and creating at all three levels.
He finished with a career-high 28 points, four rebounds, and eight assists, on an incredibly efficient 9-of-11 shooting from the field.
Despite the height and size Lyceum had to throw against Cortez, the 5-foot-11 guard made the right read at every turn.
In the third quarter, Cortez scored or assisted on 19 of San Beda’s 21 points as he kept the Red Lions’ engine running to secure the blowout.
“Jacob knows how to play. Hinahayaan ko lang naman siya, he knows how to pick his spots. Whatever the defense is giving him, he’s gonna take. He knows the reads, alam niya yan,” explained head coach Yuri Escueta.
“I trust him in that. His teammates trust him that he’s gonna make the right decisions, the simple ones and the easiest ones.”
Every single team in the NCAA knows Cortez is the head of San Beda’s offensive attack, so he and the rest of the Red Lions know that Lyceum will change their defensive setup against him.
According to Cortez, though, focusing the defense on him alone would be a big mistake.
“Hindi lang ako eh. Today all my teammates played well, they shot well.
“Si Nygel (Gonzales), he had a good game, Yuks (Andrada) had a good game, so it’s not just me. Kasi kung ifo-focus nila sa akin, feel ko disadvantage iyon, kasi grabe rin yung confidence ng teammates ko. So I think that also played a big role sa game ko,” shared the former La Salle Greenie and UST Tiger Cub standout.
Junior big man Andrada and rookie point guard Gonzales got 12 apiece. James Payosing also produced nine points and seven boards, while rookie Jomel Puno got seven points and nine rebounds.
Regardless, should Cortez need to replicate his otherworldly offensive outing in their do-or-die matchup on Friday, the son of former PBA player Mike Cortez says there’s no pressure on his shoulders that might throw him off his game.
“No. Walang pressure sa akin. Like my dad always tells me, laro ka lang, have fun, just play your game. No pressure at all.”
Cortez’s transformation from a reserve player in San Beda to their go-to guy in just one year astounds many. However, Cortez himself feels unsurprised because he knows he put in the work to get to where he is now.
“Staying ready. Even though reserved ako nung bubble, I was always there doing extra work from morning until night. I was giving the starters a hard time para pag sa game, it would be easy for them,” he continued.
“But even in the offseason I just continued to practice and stay humble, and it’s all about hard work. Yun lang talaga.”
Cortez and the Red Lions have one more game to go before they can make it back to the finals. They go up one more time against Lyceum of the Philippines University on Friday, 3:00 PM at the SMART Araneta Coliseum.