(STAR) THE GAME OF MY LIFE By Bill Velasco - The road to the top of the NCAA narrowed greatly going into yesterday’s Final Four, and how. Though the top four teams were practically determined towards the end of the first round, it has been an eventful run for most of the teams involved in the hunt for both the Final Four and the wild card slot in the Philippine Collegiate Champions League (PCCL).

Initially, San Sebastian romped off with a sweep of the first round, beating even three-time champion San Beda. The Stags, under new head coach Ato Agustin, were playing fluidly, behind a solid defense, inspired play by its rookies, and the consistent scoring of guard Jimbo Aquino. However, after going more than three months and losing only a terribly physical contest against fourth-running Letran Knights, the Stags have started to fall apart.

Monday, the Stags faced the Red Lions in their final regular season match. Both teams played a tight defensive game, San Beda playing the passing lanes very well, with the bigger Rome dela Rosa containing Aquino. San Sebastian, meanwhile, made it difficult for San Beda to turn to their transition game, at least for a while. The Stags played minus power forward Gilbert Bulawan, who was thrown out of their previous game for entering the playing court. Calvin Abueva more than made up for the vacuum by yanking down 15 rebounds, though our TV stats man said he had at least 21.

In the end, though, the mental toughness of the Stags was tested and found wanting. San Beda handed them only their second defeat in 18 games, and pulled them into a tie for first. The tie had to be broken to determine who would be number one and face a depleted Letran side, and who would be number two and meet JRU. But both San Beda and San Sebastian would carry a twice-to-beat advantage going into the next round.

Wednesday, they went at it again. It took two and half minutes for San Sebastian to score, and almost twice as long for San Beda to get a bucket. The first quarter ended with each team scoring only six points. San Beda, though was straining to run, and eventually did. San Sebastian struggled to score. At halftime, the Stags’ confidence started to wane.

In the third quarter, Aquino (who averaged 20.9 points per game going into their matches) was whistled for what seemed to be a punch to the ribs of San Beda’s Jake Pascual. Aquino was suspended from yesterday’s game, and dashed his chances of being named tournament MVP. Without their leading scorer and veteran, San Sebastian looked for more leaders, and found them in the young forward tandem of Ronald Pascual and Abueva. But after closing the gap to one, they ran out of miracles.

Now, in the Final Four, the Red Lions are smacking their lips at the prospect of a physical but undersized and undermanned Letran squad that has not beaten them in their last four attempts. The Knights lost Rey Guevarra (15.7 points per game) to an ACL injury in their second-round meeting with San Beda. Guevarra adds a greater dimension to the Knights offense, with his ability to slash to the hoop and hit the three-pointer. In one game, Guevarra scored 27 points, RJ Jazul scored 27, and the rest of the team accounted for 26. That’s a lot to make up for.

San Beda has been able to live off its size and experience. The guards have not been consistent, but the bigs have saved the day quite often, more so in the second round. The combinations of Sudan Daniel, Pascual and Bam Gamalinda have proven a defensive nightmare for other teams, and they have hardly felt the loss of JayR Taganas. San Beda’s fate, though, seems anchored on its veteran point guard, Borgie Hermida, who has finally recovered from recurring leg injuries. When Hermida plays well, the Red Lions win.

In the other match-up, the big question is the fragile state of mind of San Sebastian. The Golden Stags, prior to yesterday’s games, lost back-to-back games this week, for the first time this season. With less than 48 hours to prepare against a rested Jose Rizal team at full strength, how would they do? Jose Rizal University is led by the other MVP contender, John Wilson, who has been on a scoring and rebounding tear. Wilson has only had one bad game this season, the only time he scored in single digits. JRU, last year’s runner-up, is aching to get back into the finals, and will accept nothing less. They can run, have the size at every position, and now have a healthy Joe Etame, the 6’8” rookie countryman of John Nchotu Njei. He adds another dimension to their play, allowing outgoing center James Sena the luxury of playing power forward. The road narrows even more.

Pacman floors sparmate twice By Abac Cordero (The Philippine Star) Updated October 17, 2009 12:00 AM

[Photo at left - Manny Pacquiao by Andy Zapata Jr]

MANILA, Philippines - Manny Pacquiao flooring Shawn Porter twice in sparring last Thursday doesn’t mean much for his chief trainer, Freddie Roach.

“Nothing,” said the three-time Trainer of the Year over the phone yesterday from Baguio City, right after another heavy, non-sparring day at the Shape Up Gym.

“It only means that he’s ready for the fight and that he’s doing very well,” Roach told The STAR, saying that Porter, the undefeated 21-year-old junior middleweight was floored twice by Pacquiao.

Roach said Pacquiao sparred four rounds with Porter, and caught the big and burly native of Ohio, a 2007 National Golden Gloves champion, with two powerful lefts in the third round of their skirmish.

“Yes, Shawn went down twice but he came back very well and caught Manny with a good hook. He came back very well,” said Roach, adding that Pacquiao also sparred four rounds with Jose Luis Castillo.

An Internet report said Castillo, the former WBC lightweight champion who came very close to beating Floyd Mayweather Jr. in 2002, had blood on his nose after sparring with the hard-hitting Filipino.

As of Thursday, Pacquiao has logged a total of 46 rounds of sparring, and as the rounds increase to 10 and 12 over the next few days, he should have close to 150 rounds on the book before training ends.

Roach said Pacquiao has decided to cut short his stay in Baguio by a day. He said they should be in Manila on the evening of Thursday, instead of Friday, and train two days in a local gym before flying to Los Angeles on Saturday evening.

“It’s a little hectic coming down so we pushed the date a day ahead,” said Roach, referring to the terrible road conditions from Baguio all the way down to Manila due to the recent spate of typhoons to hit the country.

Pacquiao will hold sparring today against Porter and Castillo, who seemed to have impressed Roach with his style.

“I like his style because he likes to come in and tends to lean forward,” said Roach, close to saying that Castillo, who had two memorable fights with the late Diego Corrales, fights like Cotto.

A few days ago, there was a thread at Pacand, the highly popular Pacquiao website, saying that the Filipino pound-for-pound champion got knocked down in sparring.

But Nonoy Neri of Team Pacquiao was quick to brush it aside.

“Nothing like that. No knockdowns,” he said.

Not until Thursday, when Porter, not Pacquiao, hit the floor. Not once but twice.

All work, no play for Freddie By Joaquin Henson (The Philippine Star) Updated October 17, 2009 12:00 AM

[Photo at left - Freddie Roach] MANILA, Philippines - Freddie Roach has fallen in love with Baguio City but while admitting the summer capital is a romantic place, he said yesterday there’s no time for romance as it’s all business in Manny Pacquiao’s training camp.

A certified bachelor, Roach said he’s currently unattached. “No Filipina girlfriend,” he added. “Not yet.”

Roach, who arrived in Manila from Los Angeles early morning last Sept. 22 and immediately went to Baguio City to work out with Pacquiao that afternoon, said he was never against training in the high-altitude location, about 5,000 feet above sea level.

“I was never against it,” he said from his Manor House suite. “I was concerned about the time zone, the jet lag Manny will have to overcome when he flies to the US. But I think adjusting is no problem. We’ll arrive in Los Angeles three weeks before the fight.”

Pacquiao set up camp in Baguio City last Sept. 20. He will break camp and leave for Manila next Thursday. Then, Pacquiao will train for two days at Gerry Peñalosa’s gym in the Marketplace Mall on Kalentong Street, Mandaluyong. On Saturday night, Oct. 24, Pacquiao and his team will depart for Los Angeles via Philippine Airlines.

Roach said the plan to train at Rod Nazario’s Wild Card Gym in Parañaque after coming down from Baguio was scrapped because the ring in Peñalosa’s facility is more suited for sparring.

“Manny’s hitting harder and he’s stronger than ever before,” said Roach. “I can feel his power when we do the mitts.”

As for Baguio, Roach said there’s no difference training in the city or the Wild Card Gym in Los Angeles.

“The Shape-Up Gym (in Cooyeesan Hotel Plaza) is a beautiful facility, no different from our Wild Card,” said Roach. “We’re doing everything we would be doing at Wild Card. When we’re training, we don’t let the fans in just like at Wild Card so it’s the same situation. We follow the same schedule, run in the morning and do work in the gym in the afternoon. We do the same thing wherever we are. We train just as hard in Los Angeles or anywhere else. Right now, we’re enjoying our best training camp ever. Manny’s comfortable and he’s happy. We’ve got the best quality sparring partners and that’s vital.”

Roach said when it’s not storming, Baguio City is the perfect place to be.

“It’s a wonderful city,” he said. “It’s sunny in the morning then it gets cloudy but pleasant in the afternoon. You can’t do anything about the typhoons. That’s Mother Nature at work. But there’s no upside to the storms. We prefer no typhoons. I heard there’s another storm coming this weekend.”

Roach said he doesn’t mind the fans crowding him for photographs and autographs. “I think Filipino fans are great,” he said. “I love the Filipino people. It’s a good feeling that they recognize me for what I’ve done in boxing and with Manny.”

Roach said when Pacquiao reports for training in Los Angeles, he will go hard in the first week and spar 12 rounds.

“We’ll fly in Saturday,” said Roach. “Manny will rest on Sunday then we start heavy training on Monday. We’ve got two weeks in Los Angeles before we drive to Las Vegas on the Monday of fight week. We’ll be ready for Cotto on Nov. 14.”

Pacquiao and Cotto agreed to face off at a catchweight limit of 145 pounds with the Puerto Rican’s WBO welterweight crown at stake.

The other day, Pacquiao weighed in at 146 pounds after sparring with Porter, Antillon and Castillo.

Roach said Pacquiao should make the 145-pound limit easily and he expects the ring icon to climb the ring at 149, no more than 150, even if Cotto will likely enter close to 160.

Antillon, 27, is scheduled to fly out to Los Angeles today after staying three weeks in Baguio. He is preparing for a comeback after suffering his first loss to Miguel Acosta last July. Antillon once knocked out Pacquiao’s brother Bobby in a single round and has a 26-1 record, with 19 KOs. His departure leaves Pacquiao with Shawn Porter, Danny Escobar and former two-time WBC lightweight champion Jose Luis Castillo as sparmates.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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