MANILA, Philippines – Archrivals Ateneo and De La Salle will face off at least one more time this season, with the Green Archers hoping to derail the Blue Eagles’ drive for a fifth straight championship when they meet in the UAAP Season 75 Final Four on Saturday at the Araneta Coliseum.
It will be the first time since 2008 that Ateneo and La Salle will meet in the Final Four. In the Finals of Season 71, the Blue Eagles swept the Green Archers to win the first of four straight UAAP titles.
La Salle endured some rough seasons after that, as they missed the Final Four bus in 2009 and 2011. In Season 75, however, they nabbed the last slot after beating Far Eastern U in their knockout game Wednesday.
“Matagal na naming pinapangarap na makabalik sa Final Four,” La Salle head coach Gee Abanilla said. “We have a golden chance to do it. We just refused to lose, that’s the bottom line.”
The Archers lost both elimination round meetings against the Eagles, and Abanilla admitted that “we’re clearly the underdogs here.”
“They’ve got a twice-to-beat advantage against us, and they’re a really strong team,” Abanilla said. “But I’m very happy with the way we are performing. We are peaking at the right time.”
Ateneo head coach Norman Black, however, insists that “it’s a completely different story when you get to the Final Four.”
“They are playing very, very well right now, and they just beat a very good team to get to the Final Four,” Black said in an interview with ABS-CBNnews.com. “We have to be prepared for them.”
Abanilla said they will “need every advantage we can get,” and is hopeful that the Blue Eagles’ long lay-off will work to their advantage.
Ateneo has not played since September 15, when they beat the University of Sto. Tomas Growling Tigers to clinch the top seed and the twice-to-beat advantage.
“There are two ways to look at it,” Black said of Ateneo’s long break. “We came in first place, so I think I will rather be in our situation instead of playing too many tough games in between.”
Aside from the long lay-off, the Eagles are also dealing some off-court issues: their top patron, Manny V. Pangilinan, withdrew his support from the school, and it was revealed last week that Black offered to resign from his post as head coach in light of the split.
Black said only time will tell if his players are distracted by the off-court issues.
“It’s already been decided that I will continue to coach the team until the end of the season,” he said. “And MVP said he will support the team until the end of the season.”
The Ateneo-La Salle match-up will feature the top two defensive teams in the UAAP in terms of points allowed, though the Blue Eagles are a much better offensive team than the Archers.
Still, if their two elimination round games are any indication, UAAP fans can expect a close, back-and-forth contest. Though Ateneo won both games, the Archers hung around and threatened until the final quarter.
The Eagles will rely once again on their high-scoring Big Three of Greg Slaughter, Kiefer Ravena and Nico Salva. All three players have proven that they are capable of taking over games and carrying Ateneo to victory.
Meanwhile, La Salle will lean on sensational rookie Jeron Teng, who became the first rookie in 10 years to lead his team in scoring. The Archers also hope that Almond Vosotros will provide a boost off the bench, while the big man tandem of Norbert Torres and Arnold Van Opstal will do their best to slow down Slaughter.
A potential x-factor for the Archers is point guard LA Revilla, who has struggled with injury issues all season but is a proven leader and is capable of taking over games as well.
If the Eagles win, they will face the winner of the other semis match-up between UST and NU. If the Archers win, the rivals meet again in a do-or-die game on October 3.
Game time is at 4:00 p.m.