De La Salle University will be gunning to snatch the first finals slot when it battles No.4 Adamson University at the start of the semifinals of the University Athletic Association of the Philippines Season 79 men’s basketball tournament today at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City today .
The match begins at 4 p.m.
La Salle coach Aldin Ayo, who led the Letran Knights to a National Collegiate Athletic Association crown year last year, is keen to bring the Green Archers back to the championship round.
“This is an all-important game. We are expecting Adamson to be tough so we prepare our team and the mindset of the players,” Ayo told The Manila Times in a phone interview.
The Green Archers ended the elimination round with a 13-1 win-loss record to bag the first twice-to-beat edge in the Final Four. “The last time I saw Adamson was in the Fil-Oil Flying V tournament and they really improved a lot. They have key players also that can play,” he said.
La Salle is expected to be led by the 6’7 Ben Mbala, who is already the virtual Most Valuable Player this season with an average of 20.6 points, 16.0 rebounds and 2.4 blocks in the 14-game elimination round.
The Green Archers will rely also on Abu Tratter, Jason Perkins, Thomas Torres, Kib Montalbo, Andrei Caracut, Aljo Melecio, Jeron Teng and Julian Sargent.
The Falcons, under coach Franz Pumaren, who made it to the Final Four for the first time since 2011, are expected to go do-or-die to snatch a finals spot.
“We have nothing to lose but everything to gain. They really should be dominating the whole league. They probably have the best player in the UAAP. We are playing against the best number three guy rich in championship experience,” said Pumaren.
“Being here in the Final Four is a success already on my part because I was able to fast-tract everything,” added Pumaren. “We are already in the Final Four. We are going to play probably loosely. We just have to make sure to keep the game close.”
“We just have to limit the turnovers. It’s going to be exciting.”
The Falcons earned the last Final Four slot with eight wins against six losses, beating big teams Ateneo De Manila University, Far Eastern University and National University in the elimination round.
The Falcons will be led by the 6’8 Cameroonian Papi Sarr, Robbie Manalang, Jonathan Espeleta, Terrence Mustre, Sean Manganti, Frederick Tungcab and Dawn Ochea.
Meanwhile, Ayo, sees Pumaren’s statement as a sort of psychological war.
“I think that is part of his strategy. Nobody wanted to lose every game. I believe they will still give their best,” he said. “I respect every coach and we’re just going to work hard and win.”