(Mall of Asia Arena)
3:30 p.m. Ateneo vs. UP
Ateneo de Manila University wants to build another dynasty. University of the Philippines (UP) shoots for destiny.
Two schools that waltzed their way to the final dance in contrasting tunes begin their highly anticipated best-of-three championship series of Season 81 University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) men’s basketball tournament on Saturday at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Game 1 is set at 3:30 p.m. with the well-rested Blue Eagles going for their second straight UAAP crown while the Fighting Maroons try to put a perfected ending to their Cinderella story.
UP definitely has the momentum entering the game as the Diliman-based squad came from two tension-filled knockout matches against No. 2 seed Adamson University in the Final Four stage.
The win put the Fighting Maroons back in the finals after 32 years and head coach Bo Perasol said the experience his players got in the Final Four put them in a better mindset for the finals series.
“That should make us better going into the Ateneo game. That is not to say that they don’t have a huge advantage against us but this is something we can carry on in the championship game,” said Perasol, who once handled the Blue Eagles from 2013 to 2015.
“No basketball aficionado in his right mind will probably give us a good chance against Ateneo but we would want that. We would want that tag that UP does not stand a chance against Ateneo,” he added.
Except for their shocking losses to Far Eastern University and Adamson in the elimination round, the Blue Eagles clearly dominated the first phase of the tournament to grab the top seed in the Final Four.
They even swept the Fighting Maroons in their two meetings in the eliminations by an average of 12.5 points.
Ateneo demolished the Tamaraws in their semis game, 80-61, to reach their third straight finals appearance and making the Loyola-based dribblers a clear-cut favorites with their championship experience and depth led by Angelo Kouame and Thirdy Ravena.
“We enter the finals as first-time defending champions, so it’s a whole different feeling. The experience may help us but basically it’s a new game,” said Ravena, the finals Most Valuable Player last season when they beat archrival La Salle.
“We can’t say we already know what will happen and how to play through it. This is new for everyone and we need to have a better mindset (in the finals),” he added.
Paul Desiderio emerged into one of the clutch performers in the league and is expected to carry the Fighting Maroons in the finals together with Season 81 MVP Bright Akhuetie and the Gomez de Liano brothers, Juan and Javi.
“We need to stop their shooters,” said the younger Gomez de Liano, who, according to reports, was snubbed by Ateneo in its high school and even college teams
Perasol will also play a key role in the finals as they need to match the depth of Ateneo in order to stand a chance against his former team.
“I need them to step up. I know a lot of them will step up going into the championship game,” said Perasol, referring to Jerson Prado, JD Tungcab and Diego Dario, who provided quality minutes in their thrilling series against the Fighting Maroons.