DE LA SALLE captain Jeron Teng warned his team not to look too far ahead and instead focus on the task on hand.
The Green Archers begin their journey back to the finals as they open their Final Four campaign against gate-crasher Adamson University on Wednesday in Season 79 University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) men’s basketball action at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Teng, who is playing his final year for the Taft-based team, and the Green Archers face the Falcons at 4 p.m.
The Green Archers, being the top seed in the duel, own a twice-to-beat advantage.
“Before thinking of the championship, we have to focus on the semis first,” said Teng, who was part of the last De La Salle squad that won in Season 76 under Head Coach Juno Sauler.
“We can still improve as a team. I’ll just cherish every game and give my best inside the court,” Teng added.
As expected, De La Salle dominated the elimination round, winning 13 of its 14 games, losing only to Ateneo de Manila in the second round, 71-83.
Cameroonian Ben Mbala, who is expected to be named the Most Valuable Player (MVP) of Season 79, was at the center of the Green Archers’ domination in the elimination phase with averages of 20.6 points, 16 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game.
But De La Salle Head Coach Aldin Ayo knew that they are not going to a Final Four picnic.
“Just like what JT [Jeron Teng] said, it’s not going to be easy. All the teams are competitive and the best coaches are in the semifinals,” said Ayo, who will be pitted against Franz Pumaren, who steered the Green Archers to five UAAP titles, including a four-peat from 1998 to 2001.
Under Ayo’s watch, De La Salle ended the elimination phase with a come-from-behind 73-67 over defending champion Far Eastern University (FEU). But the 11-day break gave the former Letran coach some worries.
“It’s difficult to wait, its boring,” Ayo said. “We’re just going to establish our system, go back to the basics, to the small details. We’re going to cover them.”
Pumaren and the Falcons know they are underdogs against De La Salle, which beat them twice in the elimination round.
Adamson University could had been playing in the playoff as the No. 2 seed against the Blue Eagles on Wednesday if not for their meltdown against Ateneo in the final day of the eliminations, yielding a 73-67 decision to drop to No. 4. Pumaren said his players are embracing the new challenge but they need to bring their A-game against Mbala and the Green Archers.
“I told the players that if we feel we are already satisfied being in the Final Four, I won’t waste my time preparing and reviewing for the game,” Pumaren said. “Everybody answered in the affirmative. We will continue the journey and hopefully pull off more surprises.”
Adamson University center Papi Sarr will play a major role in limiting the production of the six-foot-seven Mbala. Sarr, who finished second in the MVP race, is also averaging double-double of 14.4 points and 14.9 boards per game going to the Final Four match.
“We will play loosely. We’re not supposed to be in the Final Four. They are the favored team,” said Pumaren of his alma mater.
The other Final Four pairing pits the Tamaraws and Blue Eagles on Saturday also at the Mall of Asia Arena. Game is set at 4 p.m.