Manila – Mapua University clinched the first finals berth in the NCAA Season 99 men's basketball tournament, defeating the College of St. Benilde (CSB) 78-67 at the MOA Arena on Tuesday.
According to Philippines News Agency, Mapua's victory was fueled by the standout performances of Paolo Hernandez and Clint Escamis, who have been best friends since their high school days at Mapua. The duo combined for 16 of the team's 22 points in the fourth quarter, propelling the Cardinals to the best-of-three finals scheduled for either Sunday or Monday. Hernandez led the scoring with 22 points, while Escamis, likely this season's MVP, contributed 21 points.
Mapua's defense played a crucial role in the win, especially in the fourth quarter, holding CSB's star guard Miguel Oczon to just three points in the final period. Oczon, who had scored 10 points in the first quarter, finished the game with 17 points. Mapua coach Randy Alcantara emphasized the importance of defense and the contributions of veterans Hernandez and Escamis in securing the victory.
This win marks Mapua's second finals appearance in the past three seasons and offers the team a chance to end a 32-year championship drought, dating back to their back-to-back titles in 1990 and 1991. Coach Alcantara, a key player during that successful era, now seeks to add a senior title to his coaching resume, which already includes four championships (two as a player and two as a high school coach at Mapua).
Paolo Hernandez, a member of Alcantara's two NCAA high school champion squads along with Escamis and team captain Warren Bonifacio, expressed the team's determination to win this season, especially for Coach Alcantara.
In the other semifinal, San Beda forced a deciding game against Lyceum of the Philippines with an 89-68 victory. Jacob Cortez was the standout performer for San Beda, scoring a career-high 28 points. His performance was pivotal in keeping the Lions' championship hopes alive. San Beda coach Yuri Escueta emphasized the team's focus on defensive play and survival in the tournament.
The deciding semifinal game is scheduled for Friday at the Araneta Coliseum, where San Beda will battle for the right to face Mapua in the finals.