After scoring a career-high 28 points in the most significant game of his career up to that point and keeping San Beda University’s hopes of returning to the finals alive, Jacob Cortez issued a warning to their opponents, Lyceum of the Philippines University.
“Kung ifo-focus nila sa akin [yung depensa] 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 junior guard Jacob Cortez.
Despite Cortez’s words of caution, Lyceum entered the second matchup with the game plan of intensifying defensive pressure on Cortez. The Pirates implemented a box-and-one defensive scheme and had Enoch Valdez constantly hounding San Beda’s star point guard.
Much to the dismay of Lyceum, Cortez’s warnings came to life in the second game as the rest of the Red Lions tore apart the Pirates’ defenders. They took advantage of the extra space created by the defensive focus on Cortez and caught fire from beyond the arc, burying 13 threes for the game.
Seven of those 13 threes came in the third quarter alone as San Beda’s fearless rookie, Nygel Gonzales, erupted.
Gonzales, a freshman out of Mapua, went a perfect 3-of-3 from three in the quarter as the Pirates tried to close in on the San Beda lead, helping the Red Lions regain control of the match.
“Si Nygel yung big game eh nung dumidikit sila. They were zoning and they were staying home on Jacob. Luckily, they left some guys open, and those guys were ready to shoot. I have to give it yung confidence ng bata na iyon ibang klase talaga,” explained head coach Yuri Escueta.
“Not just him kahit sila Damie (Cuntapay) ready sila tumira. We made our shots, we played defense, ibang klase talaga ayaw nila magpatalo.”
In the fourth quarter, another rookie, Jomel Puno, saved the day for San Beda as the 6-foot-5 forward from Canada dropped nine points and seven rebounds in the last 10 minutes alone, almost single-handedly securing the 82-72 victory.
“I’m just very grateful because coming here from Canada, especially learning Coach Yuri’s system, it’s very high level. I feel like I’m a whole different player from when I first played here last year, and I just learned how to read the game better,” explained the Fil-Canadian wingman.
“As I said nga there’s Jacob, there’s Yuki (Andrada), but as important as those guys are even until the 15th player and 18th player I have sa lineup ko. Kasi sa practices grabe kung paano ipush ng third group yung first and second group,” admitted Escueta.
“Basketball is a team game, you can’t win with just one or two guys, you really have to have the other guys to step up also and pieces need to start to fall in the right place for this to happen. And what’s nice about this is their camaraderie, yung bonding nila with each other. Kaya they gave each other confidence and trust, and they know they have everyone behind their back and everyone’s trust may tiwala sa isa’t isa.”
The Red Lions turn their attention to the looming best-of-3 finals matchup against Mapua University, who won both games against San Beda in the elimination rounds. Only time will tell if San Beda can get past the Cardinals for the first time this season, but Escueta and the rest of his squad know very well that they will need every single person at their best to be able to do it.