MANILA, Philippines -- Colegio de San Juan de Letran captain Jerrick Balanza could not contain his excitement on the day of their game against San Beda University to open the NCAA Season 95 men's basketball finals.
He woke up early on Tuesday, even annoying bunkmate Fran Yu in the process.
"Si Fran o, natutulog pa siya kaninang umaga. Sabi niya, 'Ang ingay mo naman.' Nasa ilalim ko siya, 'Ang ingay mo naman,'" said Balanza.
The graduating swingman had reason to be excited. Balanza felt it in his bones that morning that they would do what no other team had done in Season 95 -- defeat the Red Lions.
"Sabi ko, 'Mananalo tayo. Excited na ako, punta na tayo.' … Nainis sa akin 'yan eh. 'Nagpapahinga pa ako, ano oras na ako natulog.' Sabi ko, 'Excited lang ako,'" said Balanza.
"Talaga, feel na namin," he added.
Balanza channeled his excitement into production. He had 10 points in what turned out to be a narrow 65-64 win for the Knights, including the go-ahead three-pointer with just under four minutes left. The player he annoyed that morning, Yu, also shone, with 10 rebounds, 6 assists, and 3 steals.
The Knights ended the Red Lions' 32-game winning streak since August 2018, and moved on the brink of winning their first title since 2015.
It was an emotional win for Balanza, who was a rookie when the Knights last won the NCAA crown -- and now has a chance to end his career with another title. Making it all the more special for him was the presence of his former teammates, including Rey Nambatac, Bong Quinto, JP Calvo and Kevin Racal, during the game.
"Nakita ko nga 'yung mga kuya ko doon, 'yung mga 2015 champions, sinigawan ko sila, 'It's nice to be back.' Kasi alam mo kung bakit? Mas mayabang ako sa kanila, makaka-dalawa ako ngayon eh," he beamed.
But Balanza is also aware that their job is far from finished. The Red Lions are sure to be back with a vengeance and he theorizes that their poor shooting game may have been due to their long break.
San Beda had not played since October 17, when they completed an 18-game sweep of the elimination round.
"Baka galing lang sila sa bakasyon," said Balanza.
He is confident that they can repeat their victory, however, and get a payoff from all the sacrfices that they have done all throughout the season.
"Kami, nagsa-sacrifice kami, kaya sa amin 'to ngayon," Balanza said. "Sa amin 'to dahil sa sacrifices namin, bawat isa, mula coaches hanggang rookies."
Game 2 is on Friday at the Mall of Asia Arena.
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