Demoted to Mapua’s team B last year, veteran guard Andoy Estrella stepped up this season to prove his value for the Cardinals.
The 5-foot-10 Estrella took charge down the stretch, leading Mapua to a dominant 90-75 victory over Lyceum to keep its hold of the fourth spot in the 92nd NCAA seniors basketball tournament at The Arena in San Juan City.
A non-factor in the first 30 minutes of play, Estrella saved his best for last as he piled up all of his 12 points in the final frame to lead the Cardinals’ frenetic offensive.
“Basta naglaro lang ako kung ano man ‘yung mga pinagagawa ng mga coaches,” said Estrella, 23, a Cardona, Rizal native.
“Sobrang saya lang kasi nakakapaglaro na ulit ako. Ibibigay ko lang ang best ko para sa team namin.”
Estrella’s brilliance could not come in a more opportune time for the Cardinals, who bounced back from a 60-65 loss to Jose Rizal U last week firming their grip at fourth spot with a 7-4 mark.
The win more importantly gave Mapua the much-needed gap from its closest pursuers, including Lyceum.
Lyceum saw its two-game winning run come to a halt, dropping to seventh spot with a 5-6 slate.
“Sobrang important ng laro ngayon dahil ‘pag natalo kami, bababa kami. Maganda ‘yung panalo kasi tataas ang kumpiyansa ng team,” he added.
Also making his presence felt for Mapua was reigning league MVP Allwell Oraeme, who dominated in the lane with game-highs of 27 points and 25 rebounds on top of four blocks, outplaying his Lyceum counterpart Mike Nzeusseu.
The 6-foot-6 Nzeusseu, visibly slowed down by back problems, was far from his usual self as he struggled from the field, making just one of nine attempts to finish with seven markers and 14 rebounds.
“This is an important win for us. I haven’t playing well for a couple of games. We really need this win to get our confidence back and get our hopes for the Final Four going. This is really a good win for us,” noted Oraeme.
The way they showed intensity in practice clearly set the tone for the Cardinals, according to Estrella.
“Nagsimula kami sa practice,” he noted. “Ang pangit ng practice namin minsan, walang energy. Pero ‘yung nakaraang practice namin maganda ‘yung energy ng practice kaya pagdating dito sa game nadala namin.”
The Pirates tried hard to keep in step with the Cardinals as they came back from 15 points down and forged a 66-all count off Edcor Marata’s triple off the glass with more than seven minutes to play.
Just when it seemed they’re in for a tight finish, the Cardinals shifted into high gear behind a blinding 12-2 counterattack, capped by Estrella’s pull-up triple for a 78-68 cushion, giving them full control with three minutes remaining. – Jerome Lagunzad
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