MANILA, Philippines – For the first time since 2008, the Ateneo Blue Eagles and the De La Salle Green Archers will meet in the Final Four of the UAAP men’s basketball tournament.
In Season 71, the Eagles swept the Archers in the Finals to win the first of four straight championships. Since then, the Archers have endured some tough times, failing to make the Final Four in 2009 and 2011.
But with a new coaching staff and an inspired group of players, the Archers bounced back in Season 75. They defeated a tough Far Eastern University team in a knockout game last Thursday to clinch the last Final Four berth.
Here’s how the Blue Eagles and the Green Archers match-up:
As four-time defending champions, the Blue Eagles were once again the favorites heading into Season 75. But it was not smooth sailing for Ateneo, who lost to the University of Sto. Tomas Growling Tigers in the first round despite leading by 19 points in the ball game. In the second round, they were stunned by the University of the East Red Warriors on a buzzer beater by Chris Javier.
The Eagles still wound up as the No. 1 seed with a 12-2 record after beating the Tigers in the last game of the elimination round. But Ateneo is experiencing some off the court issues – including the near-resignation of head coach Norman Black – that may be a factor going into the Final Four.
Meanwhile, the Green Archers entered the season as one of the dark horses to make the Final Four. Sensational rookie Jeron Teng immediately made an impact, even scoring a career-high 35 points to lead La Salle past National University in double-overtime in the second round.
They defeated the Red Warriors in their final elimination round assignment to assure themselves of at least a knockout game for the last Final Four seed. Against the Tamaraws, they overcame a 10-point deficit in the final quarter to earn the fourth seed.
Elimination round match-up:
The Blue Eagles won both elimination round games against the Archers. In both contests, the Blue Eagles got off to strong starts, but La Salle rallied to make a game out of it in the second half.
In the first round, it was Greg Slaughter who was steady down the stretch to keep the Archers at bay, while in the second round, Ryan Buenafe exploded for 24 points to lead the Eagles to victory.
The Eagles will once again rely on their high scoring trio of Greg Slaughter, Kiefer Ravena and Nico Salva on the offensive end. All three have shown that they are capable of carrying Ateneo to victory. At the same time, the Eagles hope that Buenafe and point guard Juami Tiongson will contribute consistently.
For La Salle, the rookie Teng is expected to carry the scoring load. But big man Norbert Torres and reserve guard Almond Vosotros can both explode offensively at any moment, while point guard LA Revilla will be an x-factor for the Archers.
On ANC’s Hardball, InboundPass columnists Charlie Cuna and Mike Abasolo agreed that it will take a “perfect game” for La Salle to beat the defending champions.
“Can the rivalry fever derail the drive for five? I don’t think so. This is gonna be a one-and-done deal,” said Abasolo.
“I think Ateneo is gonna get it on Saturday and go to the Finals once again,” said Cuna.