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AU Chiefs shock Letran Knights, 72-69, claim NCAA second spot

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FI­L-AUSSIE big man Cade Flores leads the Chiefs’ upsurge. — NCAA/SYNERGY/GMA NETWORK, INC.

Games Tomorrow(Filoil EcoOil Centre)12 p.m. — UPHSD vs CSB3 p.m. — LPU vs EAC

DOWN by nine points to heavy favorite Letran going into the fourth and final quarter, Arellano University (AU) coach Cholo Martin was told by his veteran guard Shane Menina to go zone defense.

Good thing he listened.

Making that key defensive adjustment when it mattered, the Chiefs pulled off what others couldn’t do in the last three years as they shocked the high and mighty Knights, 72-69, to leapfrog to second in the 98th NCAA basketball tournament at the Filoil EcoOil Centre.

AU outplayed and outscored the three-peat-seeking Letran in the final canto, 25-13, to turn a 56-47 deficit into the former’s third victory in four outings that was good for No. 2 behind College of St. Benilde, which is unbeaten in two starts.

“I’m thankful to Shane Menina for telling me to go zone. We caught up after we made that change,” said Mr. Martin.

Interestingly, AU applied the same defensive ploy in a 61-59 triumph over University of Perpetual Help Friday.

AU also dealt Letran its first setback since absorbing a 79-76 loss to San Beda in Game 2 of their title duel in 2019.

The Knights went on to beat the Lions in the deciding Game Three to claim the crown and then swept their way to a second title the next season three years later.

Letran though appeared headed to preserve that long streak before that fourth quarter implosion halted it.

The Knights’ downfall was hastened by its horrendous outside shooting as they missed 23 of the 25 three-pointers they took while the Chiefs sank nine of the 28 they attempted.

Kurt Reyson, who hit the overtime-forcing three pointer on his way to a career-high 31-point performance in a great 101-97 escape win by Letran over Jose Rizal U Wednesday, tried to send the game into OT again.

But this time, the magic wasn’t there for Reyson and misfired on his attempt.

Fil-Aussie Cade Flores paced the Chiefs with 18 points and nine boards while Axel Doromal and Wilmar Oftana fired 14 and 13 points, respectively.

But it was Mr. Menina’s wise advice late that spelled the biggest difference. “I’m really thankful to Shane for his wisdom,” said Mr. Martin. — Joey Villar

The scores:

AU 72– Flores 18, Doromal 14, Oftana 13, Abastillas 10, Menina 7, Talampas 4, Mantua 2, Mallari 2, Sunga 2, Tolentino 0, Oliva 0

Letran 69– Sangalang 19, Caralipio 16, Paraiso 8, Yu 8, Javillonar 8, Santos 3, Guarino 3, Ariar 2, Reyson 2, Olivario 0, Tolentino 0, Monje 0, Miclat 0, Lantaya 0

Quarterscores: 12-11; 30-34; 47-56; 72-69