MANILA, Philippines – The Ateneo Blue Eagles and the University of Sto. Tomas Growling (UST) Tigers gun for an early series lead as they clash in the crucial Game 1 of their best-of-three UAAP Season 75 Finals Saturday at the Mall of Asia Arena.
It is expected to be a tightly contested game, especially as Ateneo and UST finished first and second, respectively, at the end of the elimination round. Their two encounters in the elimination round both went down the wire as well.
“It should be a very good series, it should be a very competitive series,” said Ateneo head coach Norman Black, whose Blue Eagles are aiming to win their fifth consecutive UAAP championship. “I think both games were decided by one or two points in the elimination round.”
The Tigers rallied from 19-points down to beat the Eagles in the first round, 71-70, but the Eagles rebounded in round two, 68-66, to secure a twice-to-beat advantage in the Final Four.
Black said he expects a “tough game” against the Tigers, especially as they are a “very well-rounded team.”
“They have the guards, they have the small forwards, they have the bigs, especially with Karim Abdul,” he said.
Meanwhile, UST head coach Pido Jarencio noted during this week’s PSA Forum that the Eagles were strong because “they play as a team offensively and defensively.”
Game 1 will be crucial for both squads. Since 1994, 14 out of the 18 teams who have won the first game went on to win the title.
This season’s Finals will be a rematch of Ateneo and UST’s classic three-game series in Season 69, wherein the Tigers upset the top-seeded Eagles in three games. In that series, the Tigers lost Game 1 but routed Ateneo in Game 2 before nipping them in overtime in Game 3.
But since then, the Eagles have won four titles while the Tigers have endured some difficult seasons, including early Final Four exits.
“Six years na,” Jarencio said. “Nagpa-Final Four pero walang Finals appearance, and then noong pre-season, hindi kami pinag-uusapan. Nothing to lose kami.”
After their victory over the National University Bulldogs in the Final Four, Jarencio said that this year was nothing like their drive to the championship in 2006.
“2006 – Cinderella dating noon,” he said. “It’s a different story. Dito, pinpointed ang players, ang practices... ‘yung preparasyon, sobra-sobra. Itong team na ito, ready. Kahit sino, ready.”
Jarencio is hoping that officiating for the Finals will be “consistent and fair,” especially as the second-round meeting between the two squads was marred by a controversial ending.
“Dapat maging fair ang trato, sa decision, the judgment call, sa lahat. Tapos dapat bayaan ninyo ang players na maglaro, bayaang sila ang mag-decide ng game kasi sila naman ang pinapanood dito,” Jarencio said.
“Let them decide the game, not the officials o kung sino man,” he added.
The Tigers are dedicating their Finals series to the Thomasian community. “The players are inspired because of their tremendous support,” Jarencio said.
Meanwhile, the Blue Eagles said their “Drive for Five” was dedicated to team patron Manny V. Pangilinan, who recently withdrew his support from the Ateneo, and to Black, who will leave the team at the end of the season.
The series will feature several interesting match-ups, including the clash of two of the premier big men in the UAAP in UST’s Abdul and Ateneo’s Greg Slaughter, both members of this year’s Mythical Five.
The match-up of Ateneo’s Kiefer Ravena and UST’s Kevin Ferrer will also be one to watch. Both players stepped up in their respective squad’s Final Four games, and Ferrer is expected to guard Ravena in stretches.
The game will be shown live at 3 p.m. on ABS-CBN Channel 2, BALLS HD 167, TFC Bro, TFC.tv and uaapsports.tv.
It will be replayed at 9 p.m. on Studio 23 and at 10 p.m. on BALLS SkyCable Ch. 34.