By Val Marvin Macanas
Pasay City, Philippines -- Fresh from being drafted by the Rain or Shine Elasto Painters in the PBA, Raymond Almazan seems to be more inspired to finish his NCAA Career on a high note as he and the rest of the Letran Knights advance to the NCAA Season 89 Finals after defeating the San Sebastian Stags, 85-58, Thursday night in Game 1 of their Semi-finals series held at the SM Mall of Asia Arena.
Almazan, the tall and lanky 3rd overall draft pick of the E-Painters, notched a near triple double, 19 points, 23 rebounds and 9 blocks in this game that was dominated by the Knights.
Letran has a twice-to-beat advantage in this game, but, they played as if they don't have that edge in this match. All-out and all-heart, the Knights gave it their all in Game 1, from the 1st quarter up to the final buzzer, leading by as much as 28 points, 83-55, with a little over 6 minutes left in the 4th quarter.
Letran enjoyed a slim cushion at the end of the 1st quarter as they lead San Sebastian, 17-10.
The Stags started to catch fire in the latter part of the 2nd Quarter as they trimmed down their deficit down to 5, 32-37, at half-time.
But Letran, anchored on the efforts of Kevin Racal from the perimeter and Raymond Almazan inside the shaded lane started to pull away in the 3rd quarter.
From that point on, the Knights never looked back to the Stags. They continued to execute well on the court credit to the crispy assists of Mark Cruz, Marvin Cruz's younger brother.
Letran's chief orchestrator, Mark Cruz, pitched in 19 points, 4 rebounds and 4 assists. Kevin Racal on the other hand, churned out 16 points, 3 rebounds and 2 assists. The two provided some much needed support to Almazan.
When asked about his motivation in today's big game, Almazan praised coach Caloy's trust to his players.
"May go signal naman kami tumira. So kung sino yung nasa loob wag matakot tumira kahit nagkakamali ka. Yun ang gusto ko kay Coach. Kahit nagkakamali kami, sige bumawi ka lang sa loob. Ang sarap ng ganung coach. May tiwala siya sa'min," said Almazan, who also disclosed his happiness after getting drafted by Rain or Shine in the recently concluded PBA Draft 2013.
"Oo. Dream ko talagang maglaro sa pro. Pero, meron pa akong trabahong dapat tapusin e. Focus muna ako dito. Darating din naman in the right time yung para sakin talaga kasi nagtatrabaho naman ako dito."
With this big win, Letran arranges a best of 3 Finals series against the San Beda Red Lions, who on the other hand beat Perpetual, 70-51. The series is set to start on Monday, 2:30 PM at the SM Mall of Asia Arena.