MANILA, Philippines — There is no doubt that the Ateneo de Manila University Blue Eagles are highly motivated for their upcoming UAAP Season 80 game on Sunday.
After all, a victory in that game will give the Blue Eagles a sweep of the elimination round, and send them straight to the best-of-three championship series.
For the Blue Eagles, however, a potential sweep is not their concern heading to Sunday’s game. Neither is it their primary motivation.
“I think the mere fact that it's an Ateneo-La Salle (game), that's what we're gonna focus on, not necessarily the sweep,” Ateneo coach Sandy Arespacochaga said.
Indeed, that they are playing against their archrivals -- and the defending UAAP champions -- is enough to fire up an Ateneo team that has won its first 13 games of the elimination round.
“An Ateneo-La Salle game is big enough already, so that's what we're gonna focus on, our opponents, La Salle,” said Arespacochaga.
“Our record, what we've done in the past, doesn't matter right now. What matters is the next game, so we're gonna prepare for La Salle,” he added.
The Blue Eagles are already anticipating a playoff-type atmosphere for when they play the Green Archers on Sunday. That is what they got on Wednesday when they played University of the Philippines, which saw Ateneo trail by as much as 12 points before hacking out a 96-82 victory.
Add that to the fact that they barely beat La Salle when they played in the first round, and the stage is set for an exciting match-up between the archrivals.
“La Salle is already a formidable opponent, and we can't look past them. We have to look at this game. We were lucky to come up with a win in the first round,” said Arespacochaga.
“And Melecio's back, because first round, Aljun Melecio didn't play. We've got to stay focused and not get distracted,” he added.
The Blue Eagles leaned on a pair of clutch free throws from Matt Nieto, then made a big defensive stop in the final three seconds to hack out a 76-75 win over La Salle in the first round.
Since then, however, the Green Archers have won six straight games and are in formidable form as well.
Nieto, their Round 1 hero, knows it will take another strong effort for them to repeat over the Green Archers.
“We'll take it one possession at a time, make it our own pace, our pace that is best as a team,” he said.
“And of course, playing as a team. Huwag kaming magkanya-kanya, because we know if we play individually and not listen to Coach Tab (Baldwin), you see what happens to us,” he added.
“So for me, just do our own job. We know our job specifically, and we just have to do it. If we all do it, I'm sure that it's gonna boil down to a win for us.”
If Ateneo does complete a sweep, they will become the first team to do so since University of the East did the trick in Season 70. However, that Red Warriors team did not win the title, losing to La Salle in the finals.
The Green Archers also came close to a sweep in Season 79, but lost to Ateneo in their penultimate game of the eliminations. They got their revenge by sweeping the Blue Eagles in the best-of-three Finals series.
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