Arellano U booked a finals ticket for the second time in the last three years and rookie big man Lervin Flores certainly proved as one of the key factors.
Pitted against Mapua star and reigning league MVP Allwell Oraeme, the lefty Flores held his own down low as he banged in a double-double performance in the second-ranked Chiefs’ impressive 92-80 victory over the third-ranked Cardinals to claim the first finals spot in the 92nd NCAA seniors basketball tourney at the Mall of Asia Arena.
A transferee from Our Lady of Fatima U, Flores pumped in 18 of his game-high-tying 22 points in the middle quarters where Arellano U took full control while adding 10 rebounds, three blocks and an assist in nearly 32 minutes of solid play.
Flores’ big-time performance couldn’t have come at a better time as the Chiefs, armed with a twice-to-beat edge, made quick work of the Cardinals and booked a return trip to the finals after making their breakthrough appearance in 2014.
“He’s always there,” said Arellano U coach Jerry Codiñera of Flores, who served as one of the primary defenders of the 6-foot-9 Oraeme. “Sabi ko lang sa kanya, huwag mawawala ang rebounding. You’re in a tough battle today.”
Even Chiefs’ star playmaker Jio Jalalon lauded the defensive efforts of their frontline, led by Flores and American import Dioncee Holts, in trying to slow down Oraeme, who still finished with 20 markers and 24 rebounds.
“Sobrang pasalamat ako sa lahat ng big man namin nagtulong-tulong sila. Hindi man ma-stop si Oraeme grabe ang sacrifice nila,” said Jalalon, who also came up with an all-around performance of 22 points, nine assists, eight rebounds and three steals.
Flores admitted he’s just eager to repay the trust being given to him by the Chiefs’ coaching staff.
“‘Yung mga coaches ko lagi nila ako tinuturuan. Kaya ginagawa ko talaga ‘yung best ko para makuha namin ang
championship,” he said. – By Jerome Lagunzad