MANILA, Philippines – For most of the first round of the NCAA Season 93 men's basketball tournament, Arellano University's Kent Salado repeatedly exhorted his teammates to step up, as he alone cannot carry the team to victory.
With Salado sidelined by a knee injury, his teammates are now heeding his call as they try to keep the Chiefs in the hunt for a Final 4 spot.
"Iniisip na lang namin na i-offer na lang namin 'yung game na ito kay Salado," said Levi dela Cruz, who earned the nod as the starting point guard after Salado went down.
"Mas lalo kaming ginanahan. Kailangan namin mag-step up lahat, kasi main man namin si Salado na nawala. Sobrang laking bagay nun," said Rence Alcoriza.
Salado, who is averaging 19.1 points, 3.8 rebounds, and five assists per game, suffered an injury to his right knee during their game against San Sebastian College last Tuesday, as was ruled out for a month. He will surely miss the rest of Arellano's campaign, as they only have one game left on their elimination round schedule.
The Chiefs still managed to beat the Golden Stags despite Salado's early exit last Tuesday, and in their first full game without their leader, they showed that they can get it done without him. With Lervin Flores manning the paint, Alcoriza sniping from the perimeter, and dela Cruz making plays, Arellano defeated University of Perpetual Help, 62-52.
The crucial win put Arellano's record at 8-9, and kept them in the running for a Final 4 spot heading into their final elimination round game against Mapua University.
"Malungkot po talaga 'pag wala si Salado," acknowledged Dela Cruz, who had 11 points, four boards, and four assists. "Parang nanghihina po kami lahat."
"Talagang nag-step up na lang din po kami. 'Yung mga pagkukulang namin, 'yung mga ginagawa ni Kent, pinunan na lang namin hangga't sa about ng makakaya namin," he added.
Arellano coach Jerry Codiñera knew that his team would grope for form inside the court in the early goings, as they adjusted to life without their star player. But he was relieved that the Chiefs still responded to his challenge to keep going, and eventually found their rhythm in the game.
"Sinabi ko sa kanila na with or without Kent, we will play. We will do our best," he said.
"And let's offer it to Kent. He'll miss the whole playoffs. If ever umabot tayo sa finals, he's out," he added.
Not having the dynamic Salado is obviously a huge loss to Arellano, but Codiñera chooses to look on the bright side.
"Mahirap. Sabi nga nila, nawala ang kunduktor," he said, referring to Salado's old nickname. "Puro pasahero na lang ang andoon, at mahirap. Walang pamasahe."
"Pero newfound confidence din 'yun, na they can win without him," added Codiñera.
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