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Cardinals nip Blazers; stay in Final 4 contention

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Mapua averted an endgame collapse by going to Justin Serrano and Laurenz Victoria in the stretch as it turned back College of St. Benilde, 86-83 to stay in the Final Four hunt in the 94th NCAA basketball tournament at the Filoil Flying V Centre in San Juan City.

Blowing a 15-point lead and trailing by two points, 70-72, with less than six minutes remaining, Serrano struck back with six unanswered points before Victoria hit a pair of huge buckets down the stretch to fend off the Blazers’ late uprising and hand the Cardinals their fourth win against eight defeats.

Serrano finished with 12 points while Victoria 16 points, six rebounds and six assists.

Victoria later drew the most praise from his coach, Atoy Co.

“He’s the most senior of the team that’s why I’m giving him all the confidence to shoot and make the plays when we need it,” said Co of Victoria.

It was another heartbreaking defeat by CSB, which suffered a 65-66 loss to San Sebastian in a game that saw Justin Gutang’s potential game-winning basket nullified because he was not able to release it on time.

Interestingly, it was again Gutang who willed the Blazers back from a 15-point hole to a 72-70 lead.

It turned out CSB’s last show of force as Serrano and Victoria took charge to seal the deal.

Gutang finished with 22 points, 10 of which came in the final canto, but it wasn’t enough to prevent the Cardinals from slipping to fourth with a 7-5 (win-loss) mark.

The boxscores:

MU 86 – Victoria 16, Bonifacio 12, Serrano 12, Lugo 11, Pelayo 10, Aguirre 9, Gamboa 8, Buñag 4, Jabel 2, Biteng 2, Nieles 0.

CSB 83 – Gutang 22, Pasturan 16, Leutcheu 15, Naboa 10, Nayve 10, Haruna 8, Dixon 2, Belgica 0, Velasco 0, Young 0.

Quarterscores: 28-19; 49-35; 63-55; 86-83