MANILA, Philippines -- Emilio Aguinaldo College (EAC) and Arellano University hope to sustain their impressive start as the two collide on Monday for a share of the lead with four-peat champion San Beda and Perpetual Help in the 90th NCAA basketball tournament at The Arena in San Juan City.
The Generals are riding on the crest of their emphatic 81-72 victory over the St. Benilde Blazers last Wednesday, while the Chiefs are coming off a come-from-behind 93-80 triumph over the Lyceum Pirates last week.
The winner in their 2 p.m. match will join San Beda and Perpetual, both unbeaten in two starts, at the helm.
EAC coach Gerry Esplana said he will need another strong effort from his Cameroonian import Noube Happi and his pair of rookies Ariel Aguilar and Jeraldo Serrano.
The 6-foot-7 Happi had a monster effort in his first game of the season with 12 points, 17 rebounds and three blocks while both Aguilar and Serrano had an auspicious debut by combining for 25 points.
Aguilar, who is a product of EAC's high school program, was an excellent reliever to starter John Tayongtong at the point while playing the two in some occasions while the reed-thin Serrano provided the team with outside shooting as a floor-spacing big man and hit three triples to wind up with 12 points.
"If we could get the same efforts we got from Noube and my rookies, we'll be happy," said Esplana.
For Arellano mentor Jerry Codinera, defense will be key.
"We have to make sure to check Happi and also stop their shooters," said Codinera, who has succeeded Koy Banal early in the year.
John Pinto is expected to draw the attention from the Generals after he erupted for 20 points, 16 of which coming in the second half when the Chiefs turned a first half deficit into a double-digit win.
Pinto knows he must lead by example.
"Coach (Codinera) always tells me to be the leader and set a good example for my temmates and I don't want disappoint the team," said Pinto in Filipino.