The West Negros Mustangs return to the finals after outplaying defending champion UNO-R Rams, 75-69, yesterday in the page system semi-finals of the NOPSSCEA Season 36 men's basketball at the UNOR-R Gym in Bacolod City.
Despite the loss, UNO-R gets another shot at joining the Mustangs in the finals should they beat Colegio de Sta. Ana –Victorias in this Saturday's playoff. Sta. Ana beat last year's runner-up, University of St. La Salle Stingers, 75-52, in the other semi-final game yesterday.
Going into the semi-finals, the Rams were ranked No. 1 after sweeping all their elimination round assignments while the Mustangs placed No. 2. The Stingers occupied the No. 3 spot while Sta. Ana landed at No. 4.
Under the page system, No. 1 and No. 2 teams were to play against each in the semi-finals with the winner advancing to the finals with a twice-to-beat advantage while the losing team plays against the winner between No. 3 and No. 4 for the other final spot.
Against the Mustangs yesterday, the Rams found themselves playing catch up after falling behind, 10-21 in the first quarter as Rouichi Belacura and John Nermal led an early surge for the visiting STI-WNU squad.
The Mustangs sustained the lead in the second quarter with solid defense even as the Rams tried to pile up the points from the three-point area courtesy of Coleen Testa, Japet Claridad, Kim Dimaranan and Lorenz Toral.
STI-WNU was up, 44-32 at halftime.
The Rams finally cut the lead to a single-digit in the third quarter, trailing the Mustangs 34-49 with two minutes until passing errors led to costly that allowed the Mustangs to once again pull ahead.
With a 60-49 cushion going into the fourth quarter, the Mustangs managed to keep the Rams at bay and secure the first ticket to the finals.
Meanwhile, the Sta. Ana team from Victorias City caught the La Salle Stingers off guard with a 28-10 first quarter showing.
The Stingers tried to bounce back in the second quarter but failed to overhaul the deficit as they found themselves 12-point behind at halftime, 31-43.
Finally finding their rhythm in the third quarter, La Salle held Sta. Ana to one field goal in the first seven minutes of the third quarter but eventually lost steam towards the end, allowing Sta. Ana to seal the win.*NAB
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