By Jerome Lagunzad
4 p.m. – La Salle vs Ateneo
(Game 2, Blue Eagles lead series 1-0)
Ateneo eyes sweep; La Salle seeks equalizer.
Since coach Aldin Ayo took over last year, La Salle has not yet lost in back-to-back fashion.
With its title repeat hopes on the line, La Salle should display every inch of its fighting heart when it takes on archrival Ateneo today in Game 2 of their UAAP Season 80 basketball finals at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum.
Tip off is at 4 p.m., with the Green Archers out to bounce back from a 76-70 loss in the series opener over the weekend and drag the Blue Eagles into a winner-take-all showdown on Sunday.
But Ateneo, aching to redeem the crown it last won back in 2012 at the tail-end of its ‘five-peat’ run under Norman Black, is also determined enough not to give La Salle any chance to survive and return the favor of a two-game sweep it suffered in last year’s finals.
“They’re the favorites, they’re the defending champs, and for sure they’re gonna come out next game motivated. So we’ve got to come up with the mentality that we have to step up our game, and not be content,” said long-time Blue Eagles assistant Sandy Arespacochaga.
Whether the Green Archers can regain lost ground relies mainly on the expected bounce-back performance from set-to-be-named two-time league MVP Ben Mbala, who was held down to a career-low of eight points in seven attempts the last time out.
“Expect me to be more aggressive offensively,” vowed the 6-foot-7 Cameroonian, who’s good for a league-best 26 points per game in the elimination round.
“Obviously if we lose the next game then it is over. We are not gonna go out there just to have a regular and mediocre game. We just have to go out there and win the game because if we don’t, we’ re gonna be out. And everything we’ve been doing throughout the season will just be gone to waste.”
One interesting thing that the Green Archers could get some inspiration from is the fact that they’ve been thriving well inside the Big Dome, having won their first eight matches.
In contrast, the Blue Eagles, invincible at the Mall of Asia Arena after winning all of their seven matches there, suffered their first two losses at the Cubao-based venue.
La Salle, however, needs more than that and veteran guard Kib Montalbo assured they won’t go down without a fight.
“We’re the defending champions. I couldn’t consider myself as the underdog. It’s just two great teams battling it out in one hell of a series,” he said.
Ateneo is expected to lean on a balanced offensive attack led by ace wingman Thirdy Ravena, shooter Anton Asistio and the Nieto twins – Matt and Mike – while big men Isaac Go, Vince Tolentino and Nigerian Chibueze Ikeh are all tasked to make life tough for the bull-strong Mbala.
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