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Cards finish as runner-up after Finals Game 2, 65-75

Article by: Alexandra Isabelle G. Delavin
Graphics by: Cassius Klai C. Francisco and Kristin Clarisse H. Mateo

Ending their 27-year finals appearance drought, the Mapúa Cardinals were declared the first runner-up of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Season 97 following their second-straight loss against defending champion Colegio de San Juan de Letran (CSJL) Knights, 65-75, in the best-of-three final series last May 22 at the Filoil Flying V Centre.

Getting off on the wrong foot, Game 2 of the Battle of Intramuros started off bleak for the Cards as a collision with Knights’ Shooting Guard Allen Mina left Point Guard Jeric James Pido with a left shoulder sprain, which resulted in him sitting out the quarter, followed by a four-minute drought for the Cardinals. However, Forward Arvin Gamboa poised two baskets inside the paint, bearing a thirst to win. Much to the Knights’ rough play inside the court, a chance came for the Cards to rack up points on the free-throw line as Shooting Guards Paolo Hernandez and Adrian Clarence Nocum fired charity balls.

As the team struggled to dominate the perimeter, the Cards left the first quarter with an 11-point gap from the Knights, 8-19.

The second quarter kicked off with Point Guard Jeric James Pido scoring from the charity lane on his return to the court. As the blue jerseys continued their bold defensive tactic, Hernandez remained headstrong as he received possession of the ball and charged a layup after Nocum’s miss on the free-throw line.

With their goal to build up their score, the red and gold squad heightened their offenses with Team Captain Warren Bonifacio gearing back-to-back buckets. Though the yellow jerseys hustled to seize the gap, the first half ended in favor of the opponent team, 23-39.

Not wanting to back down, the Cards picked up their baskets and rattled the opponents’ defenses. Holding onto their last chance to extend the battle for the championship, Nocum fired the team's first trey to rally against the Knights at the start of the second half.

As the season’s number one three-pointer team, the Mapúa ballers regained their confidence on the perimeter as Hernandez and Pido followed suit. Shooting Guard Brian Lacap also beamed two consecutive shots from the rainbow country. As both Intramuros-based teams ran the court with fervor, Knight Brent Paraiso left the game after committing two unsportsmanlike fouls. With over 30 seconds left on the clock, Lacap's clutch two cut the deficit down to 10 points, 48-58.

In a last-ditch effort to storm the gates and hand the Knights their first loss, the Cards attacked both inside and outside the perimeter as Gamboa, Hernandez, and Nocum fired in separate treys to ram the opponents' defense. Both teams responded to each other’s basket, neither backing down in the last few minutes of the game. Despite the Cards’ efforts to inch closer with a five-point deficit, the defending champion Knights maintained the 10-point gap by the end of the last quarter, 65-75, marking the end of the season’s basketball tournament.

Hernandez led the Cards with 14 buckets and six boards, followed by Nocum, who also put up 14 buckets, along with five boards and five steals, and Lacap who chipped in 12 buckets, one board, and one steal.

Top scorer Cards' Hernandez was also hailed as this season’s Most Improved Player with an average of 10.9 points and 5.6 rebounds per game. His statistical points ranking also leaped from the 35th place in Season 95 to the 10th spot in Season 97.

Meanwhile, Most Valuable Player and Rookie of the Year Rhenz Abando paced the Knights with 14 points and 12 rebounds. Jeo Ambohot, who was part of the Mythical Five alongside Abando, followed with 13 points and nine rebounds while Louie Sangalang added 11 points, 13 rebounds, and one steal.

Mapúa Cardinals Head Coach Randy Alcantara remained proud of his team despite not bringing home the title this season. He also shared that the current roster would remain intact as all players are qualified to represent the University in Season 98.

Alcantara shared that for the time being, the Cardinals will be taking their much-needed rest after three months of bubble training. He remained optimistic on their upcoming season that will commence later this year. He noted that the team needs to be strong and healthy while they work on improving their skills. “Kailangan namin makabalik kami kung saan kami mahina, at practice-in namin,” the Head Coach stated.

Following the end of the basketball tournament, the Lady Cardinals will prepare to take flight for the NCAA Season 97 Volleyball Tournament, with the opening set to take place on June 11, 2022. NCAA Philippines has yet to announce the schedule of the volleyball games as well as the venue for the said competition.

The Scores:
MU 65 – Hernandez 14, Nocum 14, Lacap 12, Gamboa 10, Pido 7, Bonifacio 6, Mercado 2, Agustin 0, Asuncion 0, Garcia 0
CSJL 75 – Abando 14, Ambohot 13, Sangalang 11, Caralipio 9, Javillonar 8, Reyson 7, Yu 6, Paraiso 3, Mina 3, Olivario 1, Fajarito 0
Quarter Scores: 8-19, 23-39, 48-58, 65-75

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