By Jerome Lagunzad
2 p.m. — Ateneo vs UST
4 p.m. — La Salle vs NU
Eagles eye 12th straight victory vs winless Tigers.
Defending champion La Salle aims to clinch the remaining Final Four incentive today when it takes on National University in the UAAP Season 80 basketball tournament at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum.
Tip off is at 4 p.m., with the Green Archers out to extend their winning streak to six matches, tighten their grip on the No. 2 spot and secure the last twice-to-beat advantage in the semifinals.
“Knowing that we’re going to the Final 4, everyone wants to have the twice-to-beat advantage,” said reigning league MVP Ben Mbala, who is eager to assert his might after sitting out La Salle’s 115-109 victory over NU last Sept. 16 due to his national team commitments with his home country Cameroon in the AfroBasket tourney.
While the Green Archers are raring to boost their playoff push, the Bulldogs are determined to keep themselves in contention for the fourth – and final semis – spot with three games to spare.
“We’re just gonna continue pushing, of course,” said NU coach Jamike Jarin, keeping himself positive about their chances. “We’re just gonna continue pushing and hopefully we get a break, and barge into a playoff (match) or in the Final 4.”
Meanwhile, Ateneo, La Salle’s fiercest rival, is favored to extend its unbeaten start to 12 matches when the Blue Eagles collide with the slumping Growling Tigers of University of Santo Tomas in the 2 p.m. opener.
A repeat victory by Ateneo will help it inch closer towards an impressive sweep of the eliminations—and an outright berth to a best-of-three finals – while pushing UST further on the brink of ignominy.
“I don’t care if we’re one win away from a sweep or 500 wins away from a sweep. The only game that matters is UST,” stressed Ateneo coach Tab Baldwin, doing his best to keep the Blue Eagles locked in. “And before that, the only thing that matters is our practice (sessions). We don’t look past that.”
The Green Archers are hoping to do the same against the Bulldogs, who could show up without sweet-shooting forward Matt Salem who is still recovering after a bout with dengue last week.
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