Colegio de San Juan de Letran ended its 22-year title drought, taking a dominant 77-61 win over La Salle Green Hills to sweep the NCAA Season 98 Juniors Basketball Finals, Thursday at the San Andres Sports Complex.
This is the Squires’ first crown since 2001 and their 13th title in the division.
Letran now also clinched a rare double championship that they last achieved 40 years ago. The seniors’ team outlasted College of St. Benilde in three games last December.
Head coach Allen Ricardo prepared his players to be ready whether their situation was challenging or easy, and it paid off.
“Basically, prior to that, ‘yang mga bata na ‘yan ginawa ko munang sundalo for the past two weeks. Sabi ko kailangan niyong ma-overcome ‘yung mga ganitong kahirap na ensayo para pagdating ng ganitong sitwasyon, maitawid niyo ‘yung pressure na nararamdaman niyo,” said Ricardo.
The Squires were on the attack from the get-go as back-to-back baskets by Syrux Silorio and Andy Gemao gave them a 10-point lead at the half, 38-28.
From there, Letran did not let the Greenies recover, with the latter only getting close as much as six from a Rod Alian trey with 2:31 remaining in the third quarter, 44-50.
The Squires’ advantage grew to its biggest at 17 with a Gemao basket with 1:40 left in the game, 70-53.
La Salle was limited the whole game, shooting a poor 21-of-79 from the field including a measly 4-of-24 from deep, good for just 16.7 percent.
“Dumipensa lang kami. We needed to outwork those starters, especially Pablo and Gagate para makakuha kami ng momentum. ‘Yun talaga ‘yung initial na game plan, defend and then we run,” Ricardo continued as his team was able to overcome La Salle twin towers Luis Pablo and Seven Gagate.
Sixteen-year-old hyper-athletic Gemao was hailed Finals MVP after averaging 17.5 points, 9.5 rebounds, and 3.5 assists in the sweep. He netted 14 points, five rebounds, two assists, and two steals in the clincher.
Jovel Baliling top-scored for the Squires with 19 points on a 7-of-11 shooting clip from the field to go with four rebounds, two assists, a steal, and a block. Titing Manalili notched 16 markers, eight boards, seven assists, and two blocks to his name.
Silorio also produced 12 points, four rebounds, five assists, and two steals, while co-Defensive Player of the Year George Diamante did his role by grabbing 13 rebounds and swatting away two shots.
Season MVP Pablo was at his usual best with another double-double of 20 points and 14 rebounds while Gagate registered 11 points, 18 rebounds, and three blocks.
Rod Alian added 13 points but shot 4-of-17 from the field while Christian Mesias got 10 points as well in the losing cause.
Letran 77 – Baliling 19, Manalili 16, Gemao 14, Silorio 12, Alforque 4, Hugo 4, Anabo 3, Cruz 2, Reyes 2, Diamante 1, Navarro 0, Datumalim 0, Paguiligan 0, Padilla 0, Cuajao 0.
La Salle 61 – Pablo 20, Alian 13, Gagate 11, Mesias 10, Ison 5, Villaver 2, S. Romero 0, Gomez 0, Rivero 0, Zaragoza 0, R. Romero 0, Muyuela 0, Zamora 0, Hachuela 0.
Quarterscores: 21-18, 38-28, 56-44, 77-61.