Even with reigning league MVP Allwell Oraeme playing under the weather, Mapua turned back College of St. Benilde, 78-68, on Tuesday to gain a share of the lead with host San Beda in the 92nd NCAA seniors basketball tourney at The Arena in San Juan.
Still dealing with fever, the 6-foot-9 Oraeme refused to be slowed down as he dominated his way to 17 points, 21 rebounds, three assists and two blocks while anchoring the Cardinals’ telling 15-2 breakaway in the third canto, setting the stage for a cruising finish.
The victory came on the heels of Mapua’s 74-71 victory over Jose Rizal U, enabling it to join the Red Lions atop the 10-team field with identical 2-0 records.
But coach Atoy Co was far from impressed even with the Cardinals’ best start since he took over in 2013.
“I’m happy that we’re 2-0 but I’m not happy with the way we are playing,” he lamented during the post-match press conference. “Sabi ko nga sa kanila, hindi pwede pakawalan ang tsansa na ‘to. Bihira mangyari sa Mapua na mag-2-0 start kami.”
Skipper CJ Isit collected 15 points, seven rebounds and three steals while comebacking guard Andoy Estrella overcame another error-prone outing by tallying 12 markers, six dimes and four boards, providing the needed support for Oraeme.
But Co admitted he has yet to see the Cardinals’ sharp form of old.
“We have to play as a team for us to be there for what we are aspiring for. “Kapag hindi kami naglaro as a team, mahihirapan laming makarating du’n sa gusto naming puntahan,” he stressed.
Co, however, found a reason to stay positive with Oraeme’s response to his challenge despite being bothered by his sickness. “I told him ‘Just be in the shaded lane, get the rebounds and play defense. Don’t mind about scoring.’ Mas kailangan ko siya sa part na ‘yun,” he said.
Sophomore guard Carlo Young led all scorers with 20 points, spiked by six triples, that turned out to be the lone bright spot for the Blazers, who dropped down to the cellar alongside the Lyceum Pirates, with their second straight loss. – By Jerome Lagunzad
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