MANILA, Philippines — The Ateneo Blue Eagles may have the best record so far in the UAAP Season 80 tournament, but even they believe that defending champion De La Salle University remains the favorite heading into their first meeting of the season.
The Green Archers stumbled against University of the Philippines last September 23, but have since bounced back with consecutive wins.
This winning streak includes a 106-100 triumph over University of the East, a game that saw reigning MVP Ben Mbala score a career-high 39 points.
“Of course, they’re the favorites,” said Ateneo assistant coach Sandy Arespacochaga. “They lost one game, but let’s face it: they’re the heavy favorites in this UAAP.”
Heading into their highly anticipated showdown against La Salle, the Blue Eagles are coming off a 96-83 victory over National University that hiked their record to 6-0. Given that the Bulldogs are also known for their pressure defense, Arespacochaga considers that game as a good preparation for the Green Archers and their patented “mayhem” style.
“With La Salle, you know they’re gonna press full court,” he noted. “They’re gonna come up with all sorts of traps.”
“This is a good take-off point for us, because NU also tried to trap us a lot of times,” he added.
“We’d like to get some of the lessons from this game.”
Ateneo also has the benefit of time and preparation, having last played on Saturday, while La Salle was engaged in a fast-paced contest against the Red Warriors last Wednesday.
However, Arespacochaga warns that this is a double-edged sword.
“We’ve got a whole week to focus on them. I don’t know if that’s gonna help us. We might be a little rusty,” he pointed out. “But at least it gives us a lot of time to prepare.”
The only thing that the coach knows for sure is that nothing will be easy come Sunday.
“It’s gonna be a tough game for us,” Arespacochaga predicted. “They’re the defending champs, and they’re the favorites.”
Ateneo and La Salle face off on Sunday, 4:00 p.m., at Mall of Asia Arena, with the winner emerging as the top team at the end of the first round.
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