MANILA SEPTEMBER 19, 2006 (STAR) By Joey Villar - Samuel Ekwe fuelled a big third quarter run with a pair of powerful two-handed slam dunks then John Escobal took over in the fourth as San Beda tamed Philippine Christian U, 71-57, yesterday to move within a win of finally ending a 28-year title drought in the 82nd NCAA Finals at the packed Araneta Coliseum.

Escobal, a 21-year-old rookie transferee from Davao, sizzled in the final quarter, including scoring a seven-point splurge in two possessions on four-point and three-point plays to finish with 19 points. But it was Ekwe who made the shots that mattered most, perking up the Lions and the predominantly red-clad San Beda crowd.

More importantly, he inspired the Red Lions to fight back from a 30-34 deficit in the first half en route to the runaway victory and the headstart in their best-of-three title series.

"We trailed after the half but we stayed positive because as early as this morning I felt God’s presence. He’s with us," said San Beda coach Koy Banal.

San Beda, which last won a title 28 years ago, shoots for the crown tomorrow.

Ekwe, inspired by the rookie MVP honors he earlier received, scored only seven points, all in the second half, but came away with game-highs 14 rebounds, six shot blocks and three steals.

The 6-foot-8 Nigerian also led the Mythical Five and won the Defensive Player of the Year award.

Down 30-34 at the break, the Red Lions went to Ekwe, who unleashed two rim-rattling dunks — one at the start of the third period off an Escobal feed and the other with six minutes to go for a three-point play — keying a stirring 16-0 run that gave them the lead for good.

The Dolphins clawed their way back to within five, 49-54, with over six minutes remaining in the contest. But Ekwe came off the bench and buried in a short baseline jumper to spark another run that sealed the victory for the Lions.

"What can I say about the guy, he will do what he’s told to do, he’s just amazing," said Banal of his prized recruit.

Ekwe and Escobal also drew support from Yousif Aljamal, Ed Tecson and Rogemar Menor. Aljamal had 14 points and 12 boards while Tecson and Alex Angeles chipped in 12 and 10 points, respectively.

UAAP:  Growling Tigers silence critics with Final 4 feat The Philippine Star 09/19/2006

University of Santo Tomas, hardly given a second look at the start of the UAAP Season 69, now finds itself in the spotlight.

Sustaining their big run at the close of the second round elims, the Tigers stunned the No. 2 seed University of the East Warriors, 79-75, Sunday to force a sudden death for the right to face the Ateneo Eagles for this year’s UAAP men’s basketball crown.

"We weren’t even mentioned by the so-called experts in their pre-season prediction," said UST coach Pido Jarencio in Filipino. "But look at us now, I guess we’ve overachieved."

What separates UST from the other unfancied teams is its ability to draw big games from unlikely players on any occasion.

Jun Cortez and Mark Canlas, for one, never made an impact on the team’s past games but stepped up when it mattered most to help lift the Tigers past the Warriors in a game they could not afford to lose.

"We’re just lucky to have different players stepping up each game," said Jarencio.

Credit that to Jarencio, who has instilled the never-say-die attitude of his Barangay Ginebra days to his gritty wards.

"He made the players believe that we have the potential to win, his attitude has rubbed off on the players," said UST manager Clarence Aytona.

The Tigers made the Final Four for the first time in four years.

If they beat UE again on Thursday, it will snap an eight-year wait for a championship stint. And if they make it all the way, they will put an end to a decade-long title drought. — Joey Villar

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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