Jacob Cortez’ scoreless first half did not prevent him from making his first-ever collegiate finals appearance an impressive one. And when he missed a potential game-tying three in the dying seconds of the fourth, Coach Yuri Escueta was first to give him a nod and a thumbs-up - as if to say, “good shot.”
After falling in Game 1 of the NCAA Season 99, 68-63, against the Mapua Cardinals, the San Beda Red Lions have Sunday to look forward to when they try to steal Game 2 and, hopefully, extend the series to a winner-takes-all slugfest.
Another loss in the hands of the Intramuros-based squad, though, would be the Red Lions’ season farewell.
COLD FIRST HALF
Cortez, already dubbed by netizens as the ‘King Lion’ despite only playing in his second NCAA year, was on the hardcourt in all but five minutes of the first game - the most by any Red Lion. He played through an ice cold 0 of 4 start, only turning the switch on come second half to finish with 12 points, but not without a dismal 3/17 shooting from the field.
Needless to say, the sophomore guard had troubles finding his rhythm the entire game. Whether or not it’s just one of those afternoons for Jacob or there were external factors at play is totally beside the point.
Jacob struggled. But Jacob still had the green light to take the most crucial of shots for San Beda.
The Cardinals were sitting comfortably on an 11-point cushion with seven minutes remaining in the final frame when the ‘Cool Cub’ drained a long three that seemed to have breathed life into the Red Lions’ offense.
More importantly, it looked to be what Jacob Cortez just needed to finally escape a shooting slump, especially after a series of Mapua misses that felt like an open window for a San Beda comeback.
Game clock read 4:23. Only down six were the Red Lions.
What could have been a huge momentum-shifting possession flew out of the window after a fatal miscommunication between Jacob and Yukien Andrada. Jacob wanted a quick pitch to a lifting Andrada to the top of the key, but the latter was simply not in position for the dish.
Maybe it was the impeccable double team from Mapua’s Peter Rosillo and Warren Bonifacio that bothered Jacob’s vision. Maybe it was the accumulated pressure from all those misses that influenced his decision-making. Whatever the case may be, that turnover neutralized what felt like the start of an uprising. Worse, Clint Escamis trickled in a three in the ensuing play.
An exchange of makes and misses saw the lead get stuck at five in favor of the Cardinals, until a Bonifacio foul on a driving James Payosing that cut the deficit to only three.
Final 20 ticks on the clock. The Red Lions needed only a three to tie the ballgame and possibly purchase an extra period. Jacob Cortez - cool, calm, and unfazed - took a chance on a step-back three against the heavy defense of Rosillio.
The shot that got the entire Bedan faithful on their feet hit only the front rim. Mapua capitalized and went on to draw first blood.
Despite that, Jacob did not put his head down. He did not look dejected like how most probably would have.
He knew that shot was for him to take. Coach Yuri believes it was for Jacob to take, and there was no hesitation in letting the Cool Cub know at the huddle.
In an earlier interview with GMA News, the second year coach mentioned that there remains an unwavering trust in the sophomore guard’s decision-making.
The Red Lions have a chance to extend the Finals to a series-deciding Game 3 when they meet the Cardinals again on Sunday, December 10, 2023, at the Mall of Asia Arena.