Archrivals De La Salle University and Ateneo De Manila University will clash again today in the best-of-three finals of the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) Season 79 men’s basketball tournament at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City.
Game 1 begins at 3:30 p.m.
La Salle, who beat No. 4 Adamson University, 73-67, in the Final Four, will face Ateneo in the finals for the fifth time. The two teams clashed in the UAAP championship round in 1988, 2001, 2002 and 2008.
“Of course I’m excited but I still don’t know why when I was in the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association), it was also a rivalry between Letran and San Beda. Now here in UAAP, it’s La Salle and Ateneo. I just want to win,” said La Salle coach Aldin Ayo.
He added that they are really keen on facing the Blue Eagles in the finals because Ateneo was the only team that beat them in the elimination round (83-71).
“We are really motivated because we cannot forget how we lost to Ateneo in the second round. That’s our only loss but we felt we lost everything to that. That’s personal but the good thing is that’s only a feeling.”
Despite that loss, the Green Archers finished the elimination round, 13-1, enough for them to secure the top spot and twice-to-beat advantage in the Final Four.
The Green Archers will be relying on the 6’7 Ben Mbala, deemed as the sure winner of the Most Valuable Player plum this season. The Cameroonian averaged 20.6 points, 16 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game in the elimination round.
Skipper Jeron Teng, Prince Rivero, guard Kib Montalbo, Thomas Torres, Andrei Caracut, Jason Perkins, Abu Tratter and Aljun Melecio, among others, will support Mbala.
“I’m very optimistic on Saturday,” said Ayo. “It will be the game of who wants it more. Very optimistic the way I see it on my players’ gesture and body language. All is very positive.”
If La Salle wins, Ayo will be the first coach whose teams have won both the NCAA and UAAP championships.
“Again, I only wanted to win. It boosts my self-esteem and self-confidence.”
Ateneo, on the other hand, is expecting a tough championship round after barely escaping defending champion Far Eastern University (FEU) 69-68, in its last game.
“We are going to bloody them I’m sure as they want to bloody us,” said Ateneo coach Tab Baldwin, a former Gilas Pilipinas coach. “We are not going to bow down to them and open the door for them.”
“We are a worthy challenger. If they don’t see us as the underdog, they are blind. But I think we have some momentum and we’re going to stand in front of them.”
The Blue Eagles will lean on Isaac Go, swingman Thirdy Ravena, Mike Nieto, Adrian Wong, Rafael Verano and Tony Asistio in facing the Archers.