MANILA, Philippines -- Four-peat champion San Beda and potential challenger Perpetual Help will clash on Wednesday at The Arena in San Juan City in what could be a preview to this year's finals of the 90th NCAA basketball tournament.
The Lions, currently leading the way with a 6-1 win-loss record, are gunning to keep their lead, while the Altas, dangerously at third with a 4-2 card, are trying to make the heated title race a little more interesting as they go for an upset in their 2 p.m. encounter.
It will be a battle between the league's top two defensive teams with San Beda holding its foes to a league-high 63.9 points a game and Perpetual Help coming in second by limiting their opponents to just 70.33.
That's mainly due to the Lions' ability to dominate the boards, averaging another league-high 47.43 rebounds an outing with Nigerian behemoth Ola Adeogun and Arthur dela Cruz leading the way by norming 10 caroms per game each.
The Altas, for their part, have slowed their opponents by leading the way in blocks where they lead the league with an average of five a game and steals where they normed 7.67 a game, next only to the Arellano Chiefs' nine.
"It will be decided by the team who plays defense better," said Perpetual Help coach Aric del Rosario in Filipino.
For his part, San Beda mentor Boyet Fernandez stressed: "I'm not going to tire saying this, our offense is our defense,"
San Beda has been relying constantly on its bench depth with four of its players -- Adeogun, dela Cruz, Baser Amer and Fil-Aussie Anthony Semerad -- all averaging more than the 12-point norm.
In contrast, Perpetual Help is hoping it has found a way in drawing support from its other players, especially since Earl Scottie Thompson, Juneric Baloria and Harold Arboleda have been doing the heavy lifting.
Thompson leads the league, averaging 19.67 points on an efficient 60 percent and 81 percent shooting from the field and free throw line, 10.67 rebounds, six assists, 2.67 steals and 1.33 blocks in his first six games.
Baloria has been leading not just his team but the league in scoring with an average of 20.83 points, while Arboleda has been doing the yeoman's job with averages of 14 points, 10.17 caroms, 4.33 dimes, and 1.17 steals.
Meanwhile, Lyceum (4-3) and San Sebastian (3-4) are out to get back on track and end a string of losses as the two collide at 4 p.m.
The Pirates have lost two in a row -- a 78-62 rout at the hands of the Altas last week and a 77-68 defeat to the St. Benilde Blazers just last Saturday -- while the Stags have dropped three straight games, including a 75-56 loss to the Lions last Friday.