NOW OR NEVER FOR STAGS, KNIGHTS

MANILA, September 24, 2003 (STAR) By Joey Villar  - One team is trying to underscore its NCAA supremacy with a rare three-peat feat, the other out to foil it and re-establish its reign in the country’s oldest collegiate cage league.

But it will be a question of desire when defending champion San Sebastian College and Letran dispute this year’s NCAA men’s basketball crown in a winner-take-all match before an expected overflow crowd at the Astrodome.

"Sabi ko nga sa Final Four pa lang, kung sino ang may desire sila ang mananalo sa serye na ito," said SSC coach Turo Valenzona, who steered the Stags to a stirring come-from-behind 85-77 victory last Friday at the Rizal Coliseum to force a rubber match in their best-of-three series.

To accommodate a bigger crowd, league officials decided to stage the final game in another venue with the Stags and the Knights colliding at 3 p.m. for the crown in a match expected to go down-to-the-wire.

Letran took the series’ opener, 89-73, last week and appeared headed to sweep San Sebastian by dominating Game 2 until the Knights disintegrated down the stretch in the face of a fierce Stags’ fightback, enabling the defending back-to-back champions to force Game Three.

Louie Alas, for his part, said everything now hinges on how his players will handle the pressure in what he described as "the biggest game of their lives."

"I feel that if we can overcome the pressure of playing in a Game 3 of a championship match, we have a chance of pulling this one off," said Alas, who coached Letran to the 1998 title over San Sebastian.

While a lot of people expect the two mentors to come up with surprises in their battleplans, focus will be on San Sebastian’s Leomar Najorda and Letran’s Ronjay Enrile.

Najorda, this year’s MVP, was one of the heroes in the Stags’ Game 2 win while Enrile has been the Knights’ go-to guy with a series average of 21.5-point a game.

But the bench will help decide the outcome of the contest with the Stags counting on the likes of Chris Baluyot, who came alive in the fourth quarter of Game 2 when he banged in two triples that literally brought the Stags up from the grave.

The Knights must also draw key contributions from Jonathan Aldave, Boyet Bautista, Frederick Rodriguez, Aaron Aban and Jonathan Pinera if they want to spoil the Stags three-peat bash.

"We have to get some contribution from other sources outside Ronjay if we want to win this one," said Alas.


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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