CALL it a clash of titans, but expect the temperature to rise way beyond boiling point as De La Salle University stakes its men’s basketball crown against archrival Ateneo de Manila in Game One in Season 80 of the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP).
The opener of the race-to-two series starts at 4 p.m., but for sure, the grounds around the Mall of Asia Arena would turn into a sea of green and blue as thousands scramble for leftover precious tickets to the country’s biggest rivalry in collegiate basketball.
This marks the sixth time that the two schools are facing each other in the Finals—with De La Salle, winners in 2001 and last year, hoping to even things up against the 1988, 2002 and 2008 champion Ateneo.
For the defending champions, they have nothing in their minds but to repeat.
“We don’t have any motivation but only to win the championship,” said De La Salle Head Coach Aldin Ayo, who is eyeing his own second straight—and third in the collegiate ranks after Letran in the National Collegiate Athletic Association—title, and 10th championship for the Green Archers in the UAAP.
Ayo and the Green Archers went through several distractions in the first round and finished below expectations, losing to University of the Philippines and Ateneo.
But they were back to their senses in the second round, which they swept and highlighted with a 79-76 vengeful win over the Blue Eagles.
In the Final Four, the Green Archers were in championship form in their conquest of the Adamson University Falcons, 82-75.
And now they are two wins away from making it two-in-a-row.
“We only have one goal. Everybody has been very, very responsible for the things that we’re doing. Everyone’s doing a sacrifice and doing his job and we’re not going to stop working hard until we get the championship,” Ayo said.
Back-to-back Most Valuable Player Ben Mbala would be a marked big man for De La Salle, which is expected to draw heads-up action from Ricci Rivero, Santi Santillan, Kib Montalbo, Abu Tratter and Aljun Melecio.
Ateneo? Expect the Blue Eagles to be vengeful.
“We’re a better team, as simple as that. We’re a proven better team all year long. We’ve proven as good as they [De La Salle] are,” Ateneo Head Coach Tab Baldwin said.
The Blue Eagles won 13 straight but missed an automatic Finals slot with that second-round loss to the Green Archers.
In the Final Four, the Blue Eagles’ wings looked to have wavered. They were forced to exhaust their twice-to-beat advantage following a 67-80 setback to the No. 4 Far Eastern University Tamaraws. But the good thing was they kept their poise under immense pressure and punched a Finals ticket by surviving the Tamaraws in overtime, 88-84, in the knockout game last Wednesday.
“We didn’t play this season just to win in the semis. We played this season to go as far as this team is capable of going,” Baldwin said.