Out of the ‘Magic Four’ at the end of the first round in the 92nd NCAA seniors basketball tourney, defending champion Letran has clearly felt the struggles in its title-retention drive, with the league’s top contenders giving the Knights all they could handle.
While pressing the panic button remains far from Letran coach Jeff Napa’s options, his fingers, however, might be hovering over it.
Currently at fifth spot with a 5-4 mark, three full-games behind pace-setting San Beda and trailing Mapua at fourth spot by one full-game, Letran still has ample time to get back on track and Napa knows the Knights are aware of what they need to do.
“Back to the drawing board, back to serious business,” he said on Friday following his Team East’s 77-111 setback to Team West in the 2016 NCAA All-Star Game at The Arena in San Juan City.
Losers of their last two matches, the last a painful 75-79 decision to the Cardinals last Tuesday, the Knights are hard-pressed to rediscover their winning ways in the second round, starting with a tricky encounter with the Lyceum Pirates on Thursday.
Lyceum, behind Reymar Caduyac’s timely explosion, stunned Letran 75-72 in their previous meeting last August 5 and Napa couldn’t stress hard enough how daunting the task at hand is.
“Kailangan naming maghanda lalo’t mabigat ang paparating na games namin,” he pointed out. “Hindi kami pwedeng magpabaya talaga lalo na ngayon na nasa no. 5 kami. Medyo malayu-layo ‘yung kailangan naming habulin sa taas.”
While star wingman Rey Nambatac has been a steady force offensively, coming through with a league-leading 22.7 points per game, the Knights couldn’t afford to be a one-man team and Napa is convinced his wards should get the job done collectively.
Displaying enough poise and composure in tight finishes could help the Knights in realizing those goals.
“‘Yung end-game finish namin, doon kami nagkakaroon ng lapses. Kailangan namin ‘yun i-correct para mapunta sa amin ‘yung magandang turnout sa dulo,” stressed Napa.
With a veteran-laden and a championship-tested crew that includes guard McJour Luib, wingman Bong Quinto, big men Jom Sollano and Felix Apreku, the Knights clearly have the ability to bounce back and Napa is expecting nothing less than that.
“Positive naman ako sa mga bata na magiging maganda ang response nila coming from those painful losses. I’m sure babalik ang mga ‘yan,” he said.
Napa, expressing his views on their loss during his All-Star Game coaching debut, said he just allowed his players to enjoy the mid-season spectacle.
“Ang goal ko naman, mag-enjoy ang mga bata. Para sa mga bata rin naman kasi ‘yun. It’s a pleasure to coach,” he said, adding he really planned to give all the Team East players the chance to see action.
“Talagang inkot ko para at least mabigyan ng lahat ng minutes. Ang All-Star game para sa kanila talaga so ibinigay ko lang talaga sa kanila. Although hindi lang rin talaga sila makahulog ng tira tapos sa kabila nakaka-shoot kaya naging ganun ang turnout,” Napa added. – By Jerome Lagunzad
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