By Joey Villar

WARREN Bonifacio delivered one of his best performances to date and carried Mapua to a 65-59 victory over San Sebastian and straight to a share of the lead with league powerhouses Letran and San Beda in the 97th National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) basketball tournament at the La Salle Greenhills Gym on Tuesday.

Mr. Bonifacio banged his way to his season-highs 16 points and 14 rebounds and topped it with a steal and a block to power the Cardinals to their third straight win and back on top alongside the Knights and the Lions.

The San Simon, Pampanga native was unstoppable inside as he made eight of the 12 shots he took, mostly coming in the key runs bridging the middle quarters that turned things around in Mapua’s favor.

“We just played good defense and we communicated well,” said Mr. Bonifacio, who also instrumental in his team’s 73-67 win over Emilio Aguinaldo College last March 27 and a 59-56 triumph over Jose Rizal University on Friday.

Brian Lacap chipped in 14 points while Paolo Hernandez scattered 12 including a booming three-pointer late that doused cold water on the Stags’ rally.

It was another impressive performance by a Mapua team that didn’t get much pre-season hype compared to the heavily favored Letran, the defending champion, and San Beda, the runner-up three years ago.

“Honestly, we didn’t expect to start 3-0,” said Mapua coach Randy Alcantara. “But the players were hardworking and did what they we told them to do. They’re also fearless and played strong in the endgame.”

And Mapua will have a chance to achieve more as it hopes to pull the rug from under Letran on Friday.

“They’re stronger, bigger and taller than us but we’ll try to find ways to beat them in other aspects,” said Mr. Alcantara.

The Stags fell to 1-2.

The scores

Mapua 65 – Bonifacio 16, Lacap 14, Hernandez 12, Nocum 8, Mercado 6, Pido 4, Garcia 2, Agustin 2, Milan 1, Sual 0.

SSC 59 – Calma 10, Altamirano 10, Calahat 8, Villapando 8, Sumoda 6, dela Cruz 6, Cosari 6, Are 2, Shanoda 2, Felebrico 1, Una 0, Desoyo 0, Loristo 0, Abarquez 0, Gabat 0.

Quarterscores: 7-12; 29-23; 53-41; 65-59.