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Best of old, new face off

Lyceum coach Topex Robinson (left) and San Beda mentor Boyet Fernandez figure in a title showdown between an unbeaten squad against a team steeped in championship tradition.

Grizzled Lions, Hot Pirates open NCAA title tiff

MANILA, Philippines — It’s a curious but volatile match-up for the NCAA crown.

There’s the Lyceum Pirates, basking in the glow of a record 18-0 sweep in the elims, but a first timer in the finals against the San Beda Red Lions, the worthy challenger and winner of nine championships over the past 11 years, at the start of their best-of-three finals today at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.

And neither team wants to be called the favorite.

It’s the first time that Lyceum has stepped into the finals of the country’s oldest collegiate league, since the Pirates joined the fold in 2011.

San Beda is in its 12th straight finals appearance, winning nine times, including five in a row until 2014, and last year.

San Sebastian and Letran are the only teams that beat San Beda in the finals the past decade, winning the crown in 2009 and 2015, respectively.

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Staying unbeaten after a long elimination round should make the Pirates the hands-down favorites.

Yet, coach Topex Robinson is not raising his magic wand, saying the finals is an entirely different ballgame, and San Beda’s experience should play a key factor.

“San Beda is the favored team, with its lineup and championship experience that they have. We are the underdogs coming into the series,” said the Lyceum coach.

Lyceum mastered San Beda in the elims, winning twice, including one in double-overtime last Oct. 19.

The Pirates will come off a long 22-day layoff heading to today’s game set at 3:30 p.m.

“We know it’s our first time to be in this level and it’s really an unchartered territory for us,” said Robinson.

“But rather than being takot (scared), we should be excited. We know that we got nothing to lose. They’re (San Beda) the stronger team,” Robinson added.

San Beda came off its own layoff of 19 days to beat San Sebastian in a knockout match last Tuesday, and book its 12th straight championship appearance.

Coach Boyet Fernandez, who almost lost his voice in Tuesday’s encounter, admitted that the Pirates are the best team in the league at this point.

“Right now, Lyceum is the best team. Right now. Because they beat us twice. So, we’re the underdogs,” he said.

“We were beaten by LPU (Lyceum) fair and square. We lost those two games (elims). But I still trust my players. We’ll find the way to win. We’ll see what we can do,” the San Beda coach added.

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