By Val Marvin Macanas
The Letran Knights didn't let their crowd go home sad as they beat the Season favorite San Sebastian Stags in their opening day match-up in the NCAA Season 88 at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Coach Louie Alas of Letran was well aware of the foul troubles of his son Kevin Alas last NCAA Season, thus he opted not to include him in the starting 5 of Letran in this game. And it proved to be effective. In fact, even though he wasn't in the starting he still flourished and scored a career high 31 points, 5 rebounds and 2 steals. He played like Russel Westbrook in this game. Making Foul Counted plays here and there and shooting threes from almost all parts of the three point area. He literally carried Letran in this big win against the Stags.
The 1st Quarter started with Calvin "The Beast" Abueva leading the way for Baste using his unique "Tank Dribble" which is virtually unstoppable unless you foul him hard in the mid court. That's what Letran did. They fouled him several times and because of that he frequently visited the free throw line. But he missed a lot of his free-throws. Though they still started hot leading to a 7-4 score in their favor with 6 minutes left in the first quarter clock. Jonathan Belorio, who I think made a big improvement in his perimeter shooting made a strong move in the shaded lane for two points to cut the lead of Baste down to 1, 7-6 with 5:10 left in the 1st quarter. Lo and behold, Kevin Alas finally entered the ball game with 5 minutes left on the 1st period. He brought his game face on with a little perspiration on his head. The grin and grit on his face was really evident. He was like a Panabong na manok, galit na galit. The complexion of the game changed when he came in. He was looking to carry his team in this game. Indeed, he started out strong. He seemed to be feeling perfect in this game in fact he made little to no mistakes at all. Driving more towards the basket, making foul counted plays than settling for outside shots. He was also doing well in making extra passes for his teammates especially to Almazan who converted those passes into points. Kevin Al Letran's ball movement and their drive and draw plays really improved drastically. With things going well for Letran, they were able to steal the lead from Baste, 14-13 to end the first quarter strong.
The 2nd Quarter started with Ian Sangalang making a put-back shot but Kevin Alas quickly answered with a 3-point play making the score 17-15 for Letran with 9 minutes left in the 2nd Quarter. A series of counter-shots coming from both teams happened. Kevin Alas for Letran was making difficult shots in the shaded lane. He made 2 3-point plays making the score 21-19 with 8 minutes left in the 2nd Quarter. Letran's Mark Cruz, who's a lot taller in person and Baste's Jovit Dela Cruz made nice quick baskets for their respective teams making it 25-23 still for Letran with 5 minutes left in the 2nd Quarter. Jam Cortes, Letran's mobile Big Man made a 3-pt. play but he missed his free-throw, but what's important in that play was that he was able to pick-up Ronald Pascual's 3rd foul. The score now is 27-23 in favor of Letran with 4 minutes remaining in the 2nd Quarter. Letran's speedy guard, Mr. Lithuania made an impact by making his 2 free-throws increasing their lead to 6 points, 29-23. Abueva kept on attacking the transition defense of Letran. He got fouled makes 2 free-throws, but Kevin Alas made a booming 3-pointer making the score 32-25 with 3 minutes remaining in the 2nd quarter. What's lacking for Baste is the contribution of Ronald Pascual. He was shooting bricks, practically struggling in this game. He had no field goal in this testy game. Letran meanwhile was running on all cylinders as Kevin Racal made a nice looking baseline jay to increase their lead to 9, 34-25. Mark Cruz had a 3 pointer in the right wing plus Kevin Alas made a dazzling Lay-up to end the first half, 39-29 in their favor.
At the half, I saw in the stat sheet. Kevin Alas had 16 points in the first half alone. That's big considering that he was not a starter in this game. The ploy of Coach Louie seemed to have worked for the betterment of Kevin. He was not in foul trouble in the first half. Meanwhile for Baste, they seem to have a big problem as Ronald Pascual was struggling in this game. He was shooting uncontested three pointers but he missed them all. And Abueva only had 5 points in the first half. Letran made a decent job in stopping Calvin in the first 2 quarters. And also, Baste had 20 glaring turnovers in the first half while Letran only had 14.
In the 3rd Quarter, the number of turnovers for Baste continued to pile up while Letran continued to thrive via Kevin Alas. He made a three to make the score 42-29. But The Beast Calvin Abueva, humming in 3rd Quarter made 5 quick points via a 3 pointer and a 2 pointer, but Kevin Alas answered with a 2 pointer to make it 46-38 in favor of Letran with 5:40 left in 3rd. Calvin attacked again looking to snipe from beyond the arc and he made a 3 pointer and Ian Sangalang made a quick 2. They trimmed down Letran's lead to 1, 46-45 with 4 mins. left in 3rd Quarter. Bobby Balucanag and Jovit Dela Cruz provided an additional spark for the Stags as they produced 4 important points to help Abueva in scoring. Abueva registered 10 points and 4 rebounds in the 3rd quarter to get the lead from Letran, 53-50 at the end of 3rd Quarter.
In the 4th quarter, Ronald Pascual fouled Kevin Racal on an And 1 play. He made his bonus free throw. Due to that foul Ronald Pascual fouled out. He was disappointed at himself as he headed back to the bench of Baste. And so it's a tied ballgame at 52 all. The Stags continued to charge as Sangalang made a putback on Jovit Dela Cruz's miss. But Kevin Alas answered via a beautiful floater. He's really smooth. The much improved Jonathan Belorio made a short stab for Letran but it was answered by the gritty Bobby Balucanag. Still, the game was tied, but Balucanag made a terrible mistake by committing a tripping foul when Kevin Alas was shooting a three pointer at the right flank. It was considered as an unsportsman foul. Kevin Alas made all his 3 free-throws to give Letran a 3 point lead 62-59 with 6 minutes left in the 4th. At that point, Kevin Alas already tied his career high 29 points, 4 rebounds and 2 steals. Meanwhile, Jam Cortes started to make his presence felt as he attacked Baste's defense. He was fouled but split his charities making way for a 63-59 score with 5 minutes remaining in the 4th. Baste also went into penalty because of Juico Foul. Better shot selection was the key here for Letran courtesy of the drive and draw plays of Kevin Alas. As a result Cortes made a 3 point play while Baste was struggling to shoot with 4 minutes and 20 seconds remaining on the 4th quarter clock. Balucanag relentless as he made 4 points in just 30 seconds, but Cortes answered with 4 points highlighted by one dunk coming off a nice assist from Kevin Alas. In the last 1 minute Abueva And Ronald Pascual fouled out. Mark Cruz was fouled in the last 38 seconds and he made both of his free-throws to make the count 76-70. But he fouled Baste's outside gunner Rebullos, the one who replaced Pascual. Letran was in penalty and Rebullos made 2 free-throws, to make the score 76-72.
In the last 30 seconds, Coach Louie Alas called a timeout. In the ensuing play Mark Cruz was fouled and sent into the free-throw line, but he split his charities. Good thing they got the offensive rebound for another possession. Lyle Antipuesto fouled Mark Cruz again. He again split his charities. Baste ball with 20 seconds left. Antipuesto missed his desperation 3, Belorio was fouled and made 2 free-throws. That's the story of the game. The final score was 80-74 for Letran. They've just handed Baste's first loss of the Season.
When asked about the performance of his Team, Letran Head Coach Louie Alas said that he was happy with the win though he pointed out the lack of concentration of his troops in the latter part of the 3rd quarter wherein Baste was able to get the lead from them 50-53 to end the 3rd quarter. He was thankful that in the end, they got the win, 80-74 courtesy of the heroics of his son Kevin Alas, who played very well in this game. Coach Louie said that he was not aware that his son was about to set a new career high in terms of scoring. He was just confident that his son will go hard in each of their games.
Letran and San Sebastian Players scoring stats and quarter scores 1st game in NCAA Season 88:
(CSJL) Letran (80): Kevin Alas 31 points, 5 rebounds and 2 steals, Belorio 14, Cruz 10, Racal 9, Cortes 8, Almazan 6, Lituania 2, J. Alas 0, Gabawan 0, Pantin 0, Luib 0.
(SSC-R) San Sebastian (74): Sangalang 24 points, Abueva 18 points, 17 rebounds, 6 assists and 2 steals, Dela Cruz 11, Balucanag 11, Antipuesto 4, Juico 2, Miranda 2, Rebullos 2, Pascual 0, Binuya 0, Maiquez 0.
scoring per quarter: 14-13, 39-29, 50-53, and 80-74.