IT’S an all or nothing on Sunday for both defending champion De La Salle University and Ateneo de Manila as the country’s bitterest of collegiate sports rivalries clash in Game Three of the Season 80 University Athletic Association of the Philippines men’s basketball Finals.
The winner-take-all match is set at 4 p.m. at the Araneta Coliseum that is expected to be packed to the rafters by fans of both teams.
Ateneo drew first blood with a 76-70 Game One victory, but the Blue Eagles suddenly found themselves with their backs against the wall as an inspired Green Archers side toppled what looked like an insurmountable Ateneo lead to level the series, 92-83, in Game Two last Sunday.
Now, it’s Ateneo that is making the major adjustments.
“The mentality has changed already. We get rid of that loss. We move on. We have Game Three. That’s all we think about,” Ateneo Coach Tab Baldwin said.
“We don’t think about Game Two. La Salle didn’t think about Game One, and they came out and played. We won’t think about Game Two. It’s winner takes all now,” he added.
Baldwin’s assistant, Sandy Arespacochaga, agreed.
“We can’t cry over spilled milk, and we can’t feel sorry for us,” Arespacochaga said. “Why feel sorry for us? ‘Because we have a golden opportunity on Sunday. We can’t lose our focus, not right now. ‘Series isn’t over.’ That’s our focus, that’s the way we’re thinking.”
But the Blue Eagles must face the fact that De La Salle big man—two-time Most Valuable Player Ben Mbala—was at his elements in Game Two after a lackluster performance in the series opener.
“We’re not coming here to lose the game. Everyone wants to be champions. We go here to become champions, that’s what we all work for,” the 6-foot-8 Cameroonian Mbala said.
“We’re going to come out and try to grab that trophy,” added Mbala, who proved his worth and did everything in Game Two, finishing with 20 points, 16 rebounds, four blocks, three steals and two assists.
He was limited to only eight points in Game One.
“I feel like I’ll prove myself with back-to-back championships. That’s better for me,” Mbala said. “I enjoy playing here. I love my team, I love my teammates, I love the Philippines, I love the fans and I enjoy the game.”
It’s not only Mbala who could give Ateneo the headache. Ricci Rivero proved in Game Two that he is as lethal a weapon, like his older brother Prince Rivero, Aljun Melecio, Kib Montalbo, Abu Tratter, Santi Santillan and Andrei Caracut
The Blue Eagles, on the other hand, must continue to draw heads up plays from Thirdy Ravena, Anton Asistio, Chibueze Ikeh, Mike and Matt Nieto.
Image credits: Nonoy Lacza