Champion Ateneo De Manila University will start defending its title against challenger University of Santo Tomas (UST) as the best-of-three finals of Season 82 University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) men’s basketball tournament unfolds at 4 p.m. today at the Araneta Coliseum.
Ateneo returned to the championship round with a resounding 14-game elimination round sweep capped by an 86-64 romp over last year finalist University of the Philippines (UP) on October 30.
Coach Tab Baldwin’s Eagles registered a winning margin of 17.4 points as they scored 76.6 points per game on a 39.9 percent field goal shooting in the elims. The Katipunan-based team also extended its streak to 24 wins dating back to last season.
Baldwin is bent on steering Ateneo to its 11th crown and a breakthrough season sweep in the Final Four era which began in 1993.
“Our job is far from done and in fact, it’s going to get harder,” said the American-Kiwi mentor, whose team enjoyed a 17-day rest for sweeping the eliminations.
“We will pay all due respect to our opponents and that means we will go out there with everything that we have because that’s what they deserve,” he added.
Standing in the way of the Eagles is UST that survived three do-or-die games in the stepladder semifinals.
The fourth seed UST thrashed Far Eastern University, 81-71, then shocked the twice-to-beat UP twice, 89-69 on Sunday and 68-65 on Wednesday, to make its first finals appearance since finishing runner-up in 2015.
Coach Aldin Ayo is urging his Tigers to remain hungry as they attempt to end a 13-year title drought.
“Of course, we are grateful that we reached this far but this is not our main goal,” said the one-time UAAP champion Ayo.
“To be honest, we were too focused on UP that we haven’t thought about Ateneo but now that we won, we’re going to focus our attention on them. We have to do it in two days only,” he added.
Ateneo escaped the gutsy UST, 71-70, in the first round but pulled off a convincing victory, 66-52, in the second round.
Ivorian center Angelo Kouame, captain Thirdy Ravena, veteran playmaker Matt Nieto and sophomore guard SJ Belangel are expected to orchestrate the Eagles’ patented balanced offense.
Seasoned guard Renzo Subido, who hit the dagger triple that lifted UST past UP in the rubber match, will power the Tigers’ charge together with MVP Soulemane Chabi Yo, Rookie of the Year Mark Nonoy and prized recruit Rhenz Abando.