By Jerome Lagunzad
12 noon – UST vs UE
4 p.m. – La Salle vs Ateneo
Exactly eleven years ago, Ateneo and University of Santo Tomas clashed for the league’s ultimate prize, with the Growling Tigers outlasting the Blue Eagles in an epic best-of-three finals duel.
Today, both teams could find themselves on opposite ends of history when they take on separate rivals as the UAAP basketball elimination round draws to a close at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum.
Streaking Ateneo, still unbeaten after two months of grueling battles, is eager to repeat over defending champion La Salle, complete a 14-game sweep of the elimination and earn a second straight trip to the finals.
The Blue Eagles, however, are bracing for what could be their toughest test yet as the Green Archers, already assured of the No. 2 spot and a twice-to-beat advantage in the Final Four round, are determined to avenge a close 76-75 loss more than a month ago and prevent their archrivals from securing an outright finals spot.
“I think the mere fact that it’s an Ateneo-La Salle (game), that’s what we’re gonna focus on, not necessarily the sweep,” said long-time Blue Eagles assistant Sandy Arespacochaga.
“An Ateneo-La Salle game is big enough already, so that’s what we’re gonna focus on, our opponents, La Salle. Our record, what we’ve done in the past, doesn’t matter right now. What matters is the next game so we’re gonna prepare for La Salle.”
Serving as a fitting appetizer is the 12 noon showdown pitting UST and University of the East, two of the most winningest schools in league history with 18 titles each.
The Growling Tigers, far from their once mighty form in the 90s, are facing the specter of ending up empty-handed for the very first time in school history but are expected to go all out against a Red Warriors eager to deal them complete ignominy.
“We want to win that final game,” said UST coach Boy Sablan, who’s been in the eye of storm amid repeated calls from Growling Tigers faithful for his resignation on his second year at the helm.
For sure, Sablan’s UE counterpart, Derrick Pumaren, has something up on his sleeve to help the Red Warriors go out on a positive note. I told the boys that we wanna end this season with a winning note. Players and teams will be remembered, you’re only as good as your last game and that’s how you wanna end,” he said.
“We know also that UST is hungry, they want to get their first win. Even though they are 0-13 they are a lot better than their standing right now. We cannot take them for granted. We are still going to play hard, we are still going for the win.”
The Green Archers, winners of their last six matches, should also be in a must-win mode since they are determined to return the favor to the Blue Eagles for spoiling their own 14-0 elimination quest last year.
Meantime, University of the Philippines got 30 points from star guard Paul Desiderio and blasted National University, 106-81, keeping their semis bid alive.
The Maroons now wait for the result of FEU’s crucial match against the Adamson Falcons.
The Tamaraws, toting a 6-7 record, could secure the fourth and last semis berth if they beat the Falcons.
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