By James Velasquez
@_jamesvelasquez on Twitter
Every basketball game is always about the ten players on the court, waging basketball warfare, pushing each other to or beyond their limits. But at the heart of it, the spotlight shines on two players: the player with the ball and the player tasked to stop him. When they are as talented as San Sebastian College-Recoletos’ Calvin Abueva and Colegio de San Juan de Letran’s Kevin Alas, fans, coaches, and even the other players on stage hold their breath.
Smooth. Savvy. Creative. Thy name is Kevin Louie Alas. Letran’s scoring ace razzles with his crossover, dazzles with his spin move, and leaves defenders in the dust with an endless arsenal of scoop shots and dipsy do layups going to the rim. The NCAA’s second leading scorer opened the season by knocking down San Sebastian with 31 points. Lately, he has been on an offensive tear. His last two games: 30 points and a career and Season 88 league-high 35 points. When he’s not making sweet string music with the net, he cleans the glass, sets up teammates, and slaps high fives on the bench.
In the NCAA, no moniker is as appropriate as Calvin Abueva’s: The Beast. What else do you call a bull-strong, uber-athletic, mega-competitive do-it-all forward? All Abueva needs to do is call the plays in the huddle, distribute towels and water, and drive the team bus and the guy has literally done EVERYTHING for the Golden Stags. He is the spearhead of the Pinatubo Trio. The engine of the Stags’ offense. The guy has four triple doubles on the season. I asked my broadcast partner and current Petron Blaze Boosters’ head coach Olsen Racela during the NCAA on AKTV TV coverage how to stop Calvin: “Get him out of the court, out of the building. Because when he’s on the court, he’s just going to find ways to beat you.”
Apparently, Kevin Alas doesn’t care. He opens the game guarding Abueva, challenging Calvin to test his mettle. Abueva smiles and proceeds to carve up Letran’s defense anyway. Alas prevents Calvin from scoring. So Calvin finds gunner Ronald Pascual for a three. Calvin threads the needle to set-up 6-7 MVP candidate Ian Sangalang who towers over 6-2 enforcer Jonathan Belorio. Alas limits Abueva’s points. Kevin’s teammates, however, have little luck preventing Abueva from grabbing rebounds and dishing off assists.
Reigning defensive player of the year Raymond Almazan checks in for Letran. Pint-sized Mark Cruz runs the point. Kevin sees daylight as he slides to the 2. He slips through the seams in the Stags’ defense and repeatedly goes to the line as he fishes fouls from Mike Miranda and Jovit Dela Cruz. The Stags sag off the ace scorer to deny his drives. Kevin knocks down a three from way out and points to me and his Ninong Olsen on the commentators’ table. Almazan makes life difficult for Sangalang. Kevin Kent Racal hits shots and gets stops. All Kevin has to do now is to be his usual scoring self.
After the half, The Beast starts to stir. Up high to snatch rebounds from 6-7 Raymond Almazan. He breaks the ankles of Jam Cortes with a crossover and scores in the lane. He hits big shot after big shot from three-point country. Abueva’s haymakers have the Letran Knights on the ropes. It doesn’t help that Kevin Alas is called for his fourth personal foul. Abueva lets out a scowl against Almazan and smiles at the San Sebastian crowd.
Coach Louie Alas calls time out. The Knights are down but not out. He singles out Mark Cruz and Kevin Kent Racal and delivers his marching orders. Racal responds with daredevil drives, Cruz with 14-foot jumpers and crucial steals. Almazan works hard in the paint and somehow neutralizes Sangalang, the league’s leading scorer. Calvin tries to take on the entire Letran squad. Yet the 3rd quarter ends in favour of the Knights.
Kevin Alas and company survived Abueva’s offensive onslaught. Now it was their turn to turn up the pressure. Alas started the fourth quarter with a drive and dish to Racal. Bang. Sticky defense on Abueva and Pascual. Book it. Steady quarterbacking amidst a relentless San Sebastian press. No problem. By the time Kevin is whistled for his 5th and final foul, Alas does enough damage to knock out the Stags. He scores 23 points, snatches key rebounds, and completes a couple steals.
The Knights sweep the Golden Stags in Season 88. Rounds 1 and 2 go to Kevin Alas. Will there be a round 3 between Alas and Abueva? They might square off again in the NCAA Final Four. Maybe even in the NCAA Finals. After the game, Calvin goes straight to the locker room after a quick high five with some Letran players. Even Kevin knows, this personal duel against Calvin is far from over. JV