Middle-of-the-pack teams out to boost Final Four bid

With the league’s top contenders starting to pull away, four teams in the hunt for a Final Four berth try to boost their respective campaigns as the 92nd NCAA seniors basketball tourney resumes on Thursday at The Arena in San Juan City.

Mapua, occupying the fourth with a 6-3 mark, takes on the unpredictable Jose Rizal U (4-5) at 2 p.m. before defending champion Letran, struggling at fifth with a 5-4 slate, squares off anew with dangerous Lyceum (4-5) at 4 o’clock, with both matches tipped by many as crucial as the race for the No. 4 spot heats up.

With San Beda (9-1), Arellano U (8-2) and Perpetual help (8-2) enjoying considerable breathing space, Mapua hopes to bridge the gap by gaining a fitting follow-up to a morale-boosting 79-75 victory against Letran at the end of the first round last week.

The Cardinals, however, should have their hands full against the Heavy Bombers, who are riding high on a stunning 79-73 win over the erstwhile unscathed Red Lions last week.

Mapua coach Atoy Co is aware of how tough the daunting task is, something that they experienced in a close 74-71 win over JRU in the season opener last June 25.

“I hope my players stay healthy and keep playing hard,” he said.

Co’s JRU counterpart, Vergel Meneses, was pleased with the Heavy Bombers’ previous performance but sustaining it is a different story.

“We can’t be at the level of the Final Four teams if we do not play consistently,” he stressed.

The Knights, mired on a two-game losing streak, should start to feel the sense of urgency as they try to avenge a shocking 72-75 defeat dealt by the Pirates in their previous meeting last August 5.

“Oo nararamadaman na namin (sense of urgency) pero I’m still positive na may magagawa pa rin kami,” stated Letran’s first-year coach Jeff Napa in a text message sent to FOX Sports.

While his wards have clearly emerged as the biggest revelation in the first round, Lyceum coach Topex Robinson admitted it’s up to the Pirates how they will handle the added pressure moving forward.

“In order for us to be there, we have to work hard, day in and day out, and don’t be like contended cows. In the second round, it’s going to be a different spectrum. They’re gonna play harder for us,” he stressed. – By Jerome Lagunzad

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