By Jerome Lagunzad
2 p.m. – FEU vs NU
4 p.m. – Ateneo vs UP
Powerhouse Ateneo aims to inch closer towards an impressive elimination round sweep while three other teams try to boost their respective bids for the remaining Final Four spot today in the UAAP Season 80 basketball tournament at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum.
The Blue Eagles intend to stretch their unbeaten start to 13 matches and put a vise-grip hold on the top spot in their 4 p.m. showdown with the Fighting Maroons of University of the Philippines, who are expected to go all out to keep themselves in playoff contention.
A repeat win over the Fighting Maroons, whom they handily beat 92-71 in the first round, will put the Blue Eagles firmly on track for a 14-game sweep – and an outright finals berth – which they could complete with another victory over defending champion La Salle Green Archers on Sunday.
Ateneo assistant coach Sandy Arespacochaga, however, isn’t looking that far ahead, aware that there’s no other foe more dangerous to go up with than the one – like UP – fighting for its own survival.
“Sorry ah? Paulit-ulit kami. One game at a time, one game at a time. Ganun kami, sorry, sorry. It’s working. And that’s part of the way we want to keep our players focused,” he said, refusing his charges to be lulled into any false of complacency.
“There’s a lot of people who are praising our players. So that can serve as a distraction too so we want to keep them focused and grounded. We want to teach them to be humble. We want to make sure that they’re feet is on the ground. We don’t think about our standing, our situation. We just focus on the task at hand.”
That’s the same mentality that host Far Eastern University hopes to have in its 2 p.m. encounter with dangerous National University.
The Tamaraws (6-6) have an inside track for the No. 4 spot and a repeat 90-83 victory over the Bulldogs last Sept. 27, coupled with a Fighting Maroons’ loss to the Blue Eagles later in the day, will help them clinch a fifth straight trip to the playoffs.
“We’re still not in the Final Four yet so we still need to win our last two games, first against NU on Wednesday and Adamson on Saturday,” said FEU’s first-year coach Olsen Racela.
For sure, the Bulldogs, running at sixth with a 4-8 mark, are determined to show more bite than bark as they try to keep their flickering hopes alive.
“Of course, we are still going for the win,” said NU coach Jamike Jarin, keeping himself optimistic going to their make-or-break battle. “But I’m disappointed with what is happening. We’re still positive that we can still pull out the last two games.”
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