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Sweep for a sweep: Lions complete historic reversal, subdue Pirates

The San Beda Red Lions, led by coach Boyet Fernandez, celebrate with their supporters after repeating over the Lyceum Pirates to retain the NCAA crown. Joey Mendoza

MANILA, Philippines — In the end, it was the last two games that really mattered as the San Beda Red Lions repeated over the Lyceum of the Philippines U Pirates, 92-82, in one of the most shocking finales in the history of the NCAA.

It was a season of an enthralling run by a mid-tiered team as the Pirates fired up the imagination of league fans with a brilliant streak of 18 straight wins in the double-round elims.

But it was the Red Lions’ 2-0 in the post-season that counted most.

While the Pirates lorded it over the best and the rest of the field, the Lions, the most-credentialed and winningest in the last 11 years, waited in ambush and finally exacted revenge over the Pirates with a 94-87 victory in the first game of the best-of-three finals last Friday.

That set the stage for the drama-fraught Game 2 at the packed Smart Araneta Coliseum yesterday.

Like in the title series’ opener where he poured in nine of his 24 points in the final period, Robert Bolick saved his best for last, firing nine of his 18 points in the last 10 minutes of play to power the Lions to a series sweep.

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Bolick hit a basket to give the Lions an 83-82 lead with less than two minutes to go, set up AC Soberano for a booming triple in the ensuing play then drained a three-pointer himself to put San Beda unassailably ahead, 89-82, with 50 seconds left in the contest the Pirates controlled most of the way.

That sparked a frenzied celebration for San Beda and its supporters as the Lions nailed their ninth championship in the last 11 years and a league-best 21st overall.

But this one proved the sweetest – and toughest – as the Lions bucked the odds and foiled the Pirates’ historic bid for a sweep of the entire season.

“People doubted us but this circle in this team, we never doubted each other,” said San Beda coach Boyet Fernandez.

Cameroonian Donald Tankoua pounded his way to 17 points and 17 rebounds and finished the series with norms of 22 points and 18.5 boards, netting him the Finals MVP trophy.

“I just want to take the trophy back home,” said Tankoua, who missed the Final Four and the finals last year after sustaining an ACL injury late in the elims.

While some had thought Bolick would run away with the coveted MVP plum for his clutch shots in the series, the Lions top gun himself said it should be Tankoua.

“No one deserved it better than him (Tankoua),” said Bolick.

Bolick also had high praises on rival CJ Perez, the season MVP who finished with 22 points but was held scoreless the whole of the fourth quarter.

“Just one player and he changed the culture,” said Lyceum coach.

“I’m sharing this trophy with coach Topex because he too deserves this award for steering his team to a sweep (of the elims),” said Fernandez.

The game, which was delayed for 40 minutes due to the venue’s scoreboard malfunction, started with San Beda scoring the first five points before LPU turned things around and controlled the tempo for most of the first half to lead, 47-41, at the break.

Earlier, defending champion Mapua turned back St. Benilde-La Salle Greenhills, 91-81, to force a deciding Game Three for the juniors crown on Tuesday.

Clint Escamis erupted for a game-best 25 points, including 10 in the fourth quarter, to help the Robins force the do-or-die showdown against the Junior Blazers, who took the series opener, 74-68, Friday.

Skipper Warren Bonifacio, one of the nine Mapua players graduating this year, came away with 18 points and 14 rebounds to help keep the Robins’ title retention bid alive.

“I kept reminding my teammates especially the graduating players like me to make sure this game will not be the last game in our high school career,” said the 19-year-old Bonifacio, who hails from San Simon, Pampanga.

The Junior Blazers missed Rookie of the Year awardee Inand Fornilos, who was suspended for one game after committing a disqualifying foul in Game One.

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