Ateneo de Manila University guns for the sweep and the crown of Season 80 University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) men’s basketball against archrival De La Salle University today at the Araneta Coliseum.
The Blue Eagles seek their ninth title with a win against the Green Archers at 4 p.m. in Game 2 of their best-of-three championship series.
Ateneo took Game 1, 76-70, behind its solid defense against reigning Most Valuable Player (MVP) Ben Mbala, who was held down to a career-low eight points on 3-of-7 shooting from the field.
Blue Eagles head coach Tab Baldwin expects La Salle to make the necessary adjustments in today’s game and added they will be ready for the physicality of the match just like in the series opener.
“We anticipated that (physicality). You get that all the time with La Salle and it won’t be any the different on Wednesday. It would be silly to think otherwise,” said Baldwin, whose win will avenge their last season’s loss to the same team in the finals.
“We will try to anticipate what Aldin (Ayo) and their staff will do because they’re a good coaching staff,” he added.
Despite Mbala’s mediocre output, La Salle managed to stay in the game behind a 24-point explosion from Aljun Melecio.
But the lack of help, especially from the second unit, took the toll on the defending champions as they now fight for their lives and hope to extend the series to a winner-take-all Game 3 on Sunday also at the Big Dome.
Mbala, who will receive his second MVP trophy prior the game, promised to do better in Game 2 and admitted that the Blue Eagles’ defense made him inefficient in the series opener.
“We need to stick to our game plan and play together as a team,” said the Cameroonian center.
“We got outrebounded (in Game 1) and that is something that should not happen. We are one of the best rebounding teams in the league and we gotta able to do what we do best and that is rebounding,” he added.
The Nietto twins, Matt and Mike, were also huge in Game 1 while Isaac Go delivered the knockout blow for La Salle with a three-point play off Kib Montalbo.
Thirdy Ravena was steady for the Blue Eagles while Chibueze Ikeh held his ground against Mbala in Game 1 and Baldwin hopes they can sustain that kind of effort to bring the UAAP crown back to Loyola after five years.
Ayo, who turned down post-game interviews after Game 1, needs Mbala to be more active both on offense and defense while Ricci Rivero and Andrei Caracut have to provide support for Melecio at the backcourt.
Rivero had 10 points but was 4-of-11 from the field while Caracut was scoreless in 16 minutes and only had one attempt in the game.