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Cards land top spot in NCAA 99 Round 1

Article by: Michaella Louise A. Llopis and Ysa Andre A. Mendoza
Graphics by: Ma. Alyssa Therese S. Manalang
Photo by: Ma. Chinie Sta. Juana

With this year’s theme, “New Heroes of the Game,” the Mapúa University (MU) Cardinals emerged as the top seed during the first elimination round of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Season 99, with an impressive 8-1 standing after competing in nine matches held from September 26 until October 21 at the Filoil EcoOil Centre.

Taking their first flight, the red and yellow jerseys kicked off their campaign in spectacular fashion as they faced the San Sebastian College-Recoletos SC-R Golden Stags last September 26. The Cards showcased their determination and skill right from the start of their journey as they delivered a dominant performance against their challengers. Overcoming a rough start, the Cards seized control of the match, ultimately securing a convincing 10-point lead by the end. The win not only marked an auspicious beginning for the  Cardinals but also set the stage for their promising NCAA campaign with an impressive 80-70 final score. With 16 points, eight boards, two blocks, and three steals, King Cardinal Warren Bonifacio emerged as the Player of the Game (PoG).

After its first successful crusade, the Intramuros-based squad faced off against the San Beda University Red Lions last September 29. With no room for doubt, the Cards once again demonstrated their basketball prowess as they tamed the Red Lions after leaving it all on the court in a resounding blowout victory. The star Cardinals of their match are no other than Paolo Hernandez, who showcased his streaky shooting ability by contributing 17 points, and Clint Escamis, who exhibited an all-around performance with 14 points, seven rebounds, eight assists, two steals, and a crucial block. The Cardinals obtained an impressive 18-point lead with the final score of 75-57.

In their third game, however, the Mapúa Cardinals absorbed their first defeat at the hands of the Jose Rizal University Heavy Bombers, last October 1. The red and yellow jerseys soared on the contest with great determination, starting the game on a high note by establishing an 11-point lead by the first quarter, 26-15. While they strived to stay on the right tempo, the Cardinals encountered a rough patch in the following quarters, ending the match with a score of 61-70 and marking the red and gold squad’s first loss.

Coming from a setback, the Cardinals grew eager to contest the De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde (DLS-CSB) Blazers for their fourth match last October 4. Despite a challenging start that saw the red and gold squad falling short of the Blazers at halftime, the Cards showed resilience and unity in the second half. The team’s chemistry grew overtime, garnering a total of 49 points to extinguish the opponents’ early run, ultimately prevailing with a final score of 75-71. Homegrown Forward Paolo Hernandez earned his second PoG title after playing a pivotal role in securing the home team's advantage during the crucial moments of the game, displaying a stellar performance built on 22 points, four rebounds, one assist, one steal, and one block.

In their fifth assignment, the Cards found themselves on the seat of war against the Emilio Aguinaldo College Generals last October 8. As the red and white combatants charged, the Cards were pushed to rise and tie with the opposing forces’ total. Rising up the challenge to end the tight match, the battle ultimately ended with MU being victorious, 73-69.

On October 11, the flock’s sixth match against reigning champions Colegio de San Juan de Letran Knights took place. Despite near-ties at the end of the last two quarters, the Cardinals were able to achieve a six-point lead against the cavaliers clad in navy, closing the game with a 77-71 win. MU’s Clint Escamis scored 20 points, seven boards, five assists, and eight steals on the court to spark the home team’s run in the fourth frame.

Nearing the end of the season’s first round, the Cardinals experienced some turbulence during their seventh flight against the then-top seed Lyceum of the Philippine University Pirates on October 14. The red and gold players clashed against the opposing buccaneers and achieved a 10-point advantage by halftime. However, the third round witnessed both Intramuros-based teams exchanging heated buckets to tie the score with only minutes left in the last quarter. Despite reaching an 82-82 tie, the songbirds made the game end with an 87-83 score, taking the top seed title from the Pirates. Team Captain Bonifacio and floor general Escamis collectively scored 40 points, with Escamis earning his third PoG award with an additional nine boards and seven dimes, as well as the clutch three-pointer to notch the Cardinals ahead in the dying seconds of the match.

With a five-win streak under their wing, the Cards came face to face against the Arellano University Chiefs in their eighth assignment last October 14. A steady point lead in the first round was briefly broken with a tie in the next, but the players in scarlet quickly regained and maintained a point advantage, ending the match with a lopsided 79-65 victory for Mapúa. With 14 points, 10 rebounds, two assists, one steal, and one block, leader of the flock PoG Bonifacio paced the Intramuros-based squad to victory.

Facing the final match with a hot streak  under their belt, the Cards clashed against the University of Perpetual Help System DALTA Altas. The Perps and the Cards were in a battle to reach greater heights throughout the showdown, with ties and takeovers fueling the match. Ending the third round with a 49-49 draw, the final quarter had both squads competing neck and neck. The match concluded with a close yet victorious 62-61 score, serving as Mapúa’s eighth and final win for the first round. Cardinal Rookie JC Recto emerged as the Best Player of the Game, bounding with 12 points, six rebounds, two assists, and five steals.

Finishing with an awe-inspiring 8-1 score, the Cardinals proved that they had the wings to reach the goal of their near-Icarian ambition. With his clutch performances in the matches against the DLS-CSB Blazers and the EAC Generals, Hernandez won Collegiate Press Corps NCAA Player of the Week. The following week, Escamis also received the same recognition, thanks to his back-to-back 20-point outings. The said award was given by the San Miguel Corporation and backed by minor sponsors Discovery Suites and Jockey.

Taking a glimpse at the team statistics, the Cardinals nestled on top as the team with the highest numbers for steals, turnovers, and starter points. Defensively, the team took top spots in six out of the sixteen categories, namely in terms of perimeter points, points in the paint, highest number of steals, , fastbreak points, 2ndchange points, and starter points allowed. Super rookie Escamis also emerged as the leading candidate for Most Valuable Player (MVP), averaging 14 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 5.1 APG, and 4.2 SPG.

For Team Captain Bonifacio, the Cardinals are more than ready to put up a fight in Round 2. “Expect nyo na mas gutom kami sa panalo, gagawin namin ang best effort namin every game para maipanalo ang bawat upcoming games namin,” the Captain asserted.

Looking to capitalize on its winning momentum, the red and gold squad will compete against the CSB Blazers in their first match for the second round later, at 4:00 PM, at the same venue. Matches will be held from October 25 to November 22, at the same venue, whilegames will still be aired on GTV, along with livestreaming on the social media pages of GMA Sports PH and NCAA Philippines.

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