MANILA, Philippines – Letran faced a tough challenge to earn his first victory in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament season 99 without his star guard Kurt Reyson.
Fortunately for the Knights, Neil Guarino stepped up when it mattered most to give the defending champions a resounding 86-71 victory over San Sebastian at San Juan Arena on Wednesday.
Confidence was key for Guarino as he finished with 13 points and three assists, built on four made buckets from beyond the arc.
“I just had confidence because there was no one else to rely on. We didn’t have a captain’s ball, (Pao) Javillonar is not in good form so I was next in line, so I just took on the challenge and responsibility as a veteran,” the 23-year-old forward said in Filipino.
However, he didn’t take all the slices of the pie as he also praised his fellow Knights for the lopsided team victory.
He said the collective effort was the right response after starting the season winless after seven games.
WATCH: Neil Guarino after helping the Knights get their first win of the season against the Golden Stags. He finished with 13 points. #NCAASeason99 | via Melo Fuertes/Inquirer Sports
Posted by Researcher Sports on Wednesday, October 18, 2023
“I give credit to my teammates because they are the ones who give me the opportunity to score. If they weren’t there, I couldn’t shoot them. Our seven consecutive defeats really hurt, our morale was so low, but our coaches didn’t give up on us.”
“We haven’t given up on them either.”
Deo Cuajao helped lead the charge for Guarino, who finished with 14 points, five rebounds and four assists. Kobe Monje also stepped up for 13 markers.
With the uncertainty surrounding Reyson’s return to the lineup due to a groin injury, Guarino said he’s ready to do what he did Wednesday to get the four turf-hungry Knights more wins on the board.
“I’ve been waiting a long time for this opportunity to show and prove our doubters wrong, so I’m ready for any match.”
The Knights look to end their first round match on a positive note on Sunday when they play a rematch of the Season 98 final against College of St. Benilde.