Pushed to the wall by an enemy that had everything to gain in a do-or-die match, Letran on Sunday displayed the poise and character champions are made of as the Knights demolished College of St. Benilde, 81-67, to complete an NCAA men’s basketball three-peat that will be celebrated in Intramuros for the first time in almost four decades.
King Caralipio dropped 20 points that went with 10 rebounds, his brilliance in the second quarter ushering the Knights to several double-digit leads that the game Blazers couldn’t come close to putting a dent on as Letran won its 20th league title.
It was also the first time for the Knights to win this event three straight years since the great Avelino “Samboy” Lim led the team to crowns from 1982 to 1984. The last school to pull off the feat was San Beda in 2018.
Letran’s Game 3 performance was certainly one of the best it played this season, considering that the Knights were without skipper Fran Yu, who sat out the final game of his collegiate career after being thrown out of the second game won by the Blazers.
“Of course, we lost several players in this series. That’s the biggest difference in our previous titles. It’s good that we adjusted and so did our players,” Letran coach Bonnie Tan said.
Brent Paraiso finished with 16 points in getting his third championship, with the returning Kobe Monje finishing with 11.
Hard work rewarded
Miguel Corteza tallied 14 points that went with seven boards, while Jimboy Pasturan scored 10. Will Gozum, who got thrown out in the fourth quarter after a disqualifying foul, only registered 10 points and two boards.
Caralipio went on to bag the Finals Most Valuable Player award, a fitting accolade to all the hard work he has turned in, which Tan has rewarded with playing time this season.
“With King, even before, when he started with us, he was limited,” Tan said. “But he persevered. We know what he gives us on the court due to hard work. There’s no misfortunes with hard work.”
Benilde trailed, 77-60, with 4:36 left. Corteza then ignited a 6-0 spurt to keep the Blazers mathematically in it.
However, Gozum picked up that disqualifying foul that effectively doomed the Blazers. Benilde went on to score just a point after Gozum was made to hit the showers.
The Knights led by just three at the end of the first frame, only to bamboozle the Blazers in the second with a 19-5 bomb for a 43-26 lead with still 4:24 to go before the break. Letran eventually opened the third with a 51-33 lead. INQ
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