10 moments that defined #NCAAStrong for teams in Season 93

(Photo credit: Josh Albelda, ABS-CBN Sports)

Season 93 of NCAA basketball is approaching its end with only two teams left in the running for the championship. We’ve seen many great moments on S+A and via livestreaming on sports.abs-cbn.com such as the rise to stardom of some players, the emergence of new title contenders, and many heart-pounding games that had “pusong palaban” written all over them.

Take for example, that playoff game between the San Sebastian Golden Stags and the Letran Knights that went wire-to-wire. Or how about the LPU Pirates’ final elimination game that went into double overtime? Then there’s the first buzzer beater of the season care of the Mapua-Letran tussle. Let’s not forget about Jerome Garcia’s unprecedented outburst for a historic half as well. Aside from that, we were also treated to intense rivalry games between San Beda and Letran, who fought for their playoff lives.

Defending champion SBC Red Lions will try to end the unbeaten run of the LPU Pirates in the Finals, that starts this Friday (November 10) LIVE at 3:30 pm on S+A, S+A HD and via livestreaming on sports.abs-cbn.com. However, before all of those, let us look back at the memorable events and surprises in Season 93 starring all 10 #NCAAstrong schools.

10.) Andrew Estrella’s dagger against Letran

Entering the season, the Mapua Cardinals did not know what to expect. They lost Season 91 & 92 MVP Allwell Oraeme prior to the start of the cage wars and came in knowing that it will be one long season ahead. The emergence of Christian Bunag has given Cardinals fans hope coming into future NCAA tournaments but what really marked the season for them was an early upset over Colegio de San Juan de Letran. With over half a minute left in the game, the Cardinals did not raise a white banner against a formidable Knights squad led by superstar Rey Nambatac. Instead, the Cardinals leaned on Andrew Estrella, who heaved a three, a prayer, and a cry, with the hope of achieving something to remember Season 93 by. And the basketball gods answered with a resounding swish as the ball fell through the net, giving Mapua the W.
 
9.)  Hope springs Perpetual

No Thompson, no Akhuetie, probably means season over for some teams. Add in a jersey mix-up and a competitive Perpetual team was denied a victory over the College of Saint Benilde. Things looked bleak for the Altas. But Prince Eze, Gab Dagangon, and GJ Ylagan refused to fold up in NCAA Season 93 and still gave it their all every game. Their best moment came when AJ Coronel hit consecutive clutch shots to bring them the W against the Mapua Cardinals in a NCAA On Tour tussle, 63-60.
 
8.) The future is Unique

(Photo credit: Richard Esguerra, ABS-CBN Sports)

College of Saint Benilde has something to look forward to in the coming years. First off, they have a new coaching staff that is slowly instilling its identity on the players. Second, they have a building block in rookie point guard Unique Naboa. Naboa’s stats (7.8 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 2.1 apg) may not be eye-popping, but for a rookie playing as his team’s leader inside the court and being able to contribute immediately is a huge thing. Add to the fact that Naboa and JJ Domingo make an intriguing back court for years to come.
 
7.) Sidney Onwubere claims stardom

(Photo credit: Richard Esguerra, ABS-CBN Sports)

Seasons ago, the EAC Generals’ Sidney Onwubere was still feeling out his game. He had the physical gifts and a ton of potential to be his team’s main man but was still establishing his identity on the court. In his final tour of duty, Onwubere finally showed he had what it takes to be the face of the Generals. He posted career-highs of 16.1 points, 11 rebounds, and 1.4 blocks while leading the team to respectability after years of languishing in the cellar. They even almost pulled off an upset against the rampaging Stags. They may not have bagged a Final Four spot, but Onwubere’s improved game and leadership this season are more than enough to give his teammates a sense of pride to carry over to the next season while he moves on to the professional ranks.
6.) The Knights winning on their home floor with the Stingrey in charge

(Photo credit: Arvin Lim, ABS-CBN Sports)

The Letran Knights were facing tough odds when the College of Saint Benilde Blazers paid a visit to their gym for the “NCAA On-Tour.” Their record was not where they wanted it to be at that stage in the tournament, given the latent potential of the roster on paper. However, Letran superstar Rey “Stingrey” Nambatac had other plans and dropped 31 points on the Blazers en route to a big 92-78 victory, giving his schoolmates another great memory before he hangs up his Letran jersey. Nambatac has graduated from college play but that doesn’t mean there’s no hope for the Knights’ fans. Jerrick Balanza (10.3 ppg, 3.9 rpg) and big man Jeo Ambohot (8 ppg, 8.8 rpg, 2.2 bpg) look to shore up the fort for the fanbase after turning in great seasons individually.
5.) Lervin Flores bravely putting Arellano on his shoulders

(Photo Credit: Josh Albelda, ABS-CBN Sports)

The Arellano Chiefs lost their star Kent Salado due to injury in the later stage of the elimination round when they were fighting for a seat in the Final Four. It is never easy to replace a 19-3.8-5.0 line and the soul of the engine. Good thing for the Chiefs, the heart was still there. Lervin Flores, a physical specimen that likes to scrap for his team, rallied the Chiefs into an all-out battle with the Letran Nights in the tiebreaker playoffs. They may have fallen short but the display of Flores as an unflappable big in the face of adversity was something to marvel at and build on even as he, like Onwubere, is turning pro.

4.) JRU finds its Teytey Teodoro successor

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It’s kind of surprising how Jose Rizal University keeps on finding hidden gems and developing them before unleashing them to the unknowing public. The latest project that delivered is none other than Tey Teodoro’s backcourt partner, Jed Mendoza. As a transferee, not much was expected of Mendoza but Vergel Meneses probably knew better than any of us. Mendoza worked his tail off to become second in the pecking order after Teodoro, using perseverance, hard work, sacrifice to write a success story that sportswriters’ crave. Mendoza joins a rather long line of JRU Heavy Bombers star guards that lit up the league with the likes of John Wilson, Philipp Paniamogan, Paolo Pontejos, and Teodoro.
3.) Calisaan taking the Stags to the Final Four

Making the Final Four itself is already a feat. But how you do it is another. Michael Calisaan and Season 93 hosts San Sebastian went through the eye of the needle in claiming a Final Four seat at the expense of the Letran Knights. Their star forward, who appears to have fully-recovered from his motorcycle accident last year, poured in 36 big markers including the dagger to march to the Final Four in clutch fashion. Calisaan sliced and diced the interior of the Knights’ defense and let loose from three-point land in the biggest game of his NCAA career. However, the Stags’ magical run was stopped by the San Beda Red Lions, who fashioned out a hard-fought 76-71 win.

2.) New coach, same old Red Lions

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Entering Season 93, the San Beda Red Lions welcomed back former coach Boyet Fernandez and it’s as if they did not miss a beat running his old system with new players. Current stars such as Bolick and Potts weren’t around during his first tour of duty. The back-to-back champion coach has led the Red Lions to its 11th straight Final Four appearance dating back to Season 82. The Red Lions don’t have any other goal this season besides defending their title, and giving their coach a triumphant return to the den. They took one step toward that goal by defeating the hosts, San Sebastian Golden Stags, in a hotly contested 76-71 victory in a do-or-die match in the Final Four stepladder.

1.) Pirates raid, Pirates sweep

(Photo credit: Josh Albelda, ABS-CBN Sports)

No one saw this coming. No one, not even the team knew they would be sweeping the league years after being at the bottom of the standings since they got full membership. However, with the arrival of Topex Robinson and his Gospel of Team Basketball, Love for Community, and Models of Society, the LPU Pirates have transformed themselves into unstoppable juggernauts with CJ Perez at the helm and Mike Nzeusseu and the Marcelino twins playing huge roles alongside him. Every game the Pirates’ resolve and characters were tested, especially during their double overtime win over the defending champions Red Lions who could not find an able match for Perez. But apart from their success on the court, the overall camaraderie of the team is also tops. It’s quite a sight to see these kids supporting whoever was on the floor for them, with the coach providing the much-needed love and guidance.

Witness more #NCAAstrong moments this Friday (November 10) at 3:30 pm as league-leader LPU Pirates try to extend their winning streak versus the defending champs SBC Red Lions in Game 1 of the NCAA Finals on S+A, S+A HD, and via livestreaming on sports.abs-cbn.com, starting at 3:30 pm. For more news and features, visit sports.abs-cbn.com or follow @ABSCBNSports on Twitter and Facebook.

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