Reigning champion Ateneo de Manila University gets a litmus test when it clashes with rampaging University of Santo Tomas in Season 82 University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) men’s basketball tournament today at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Game time is at 10:30 a.m. with both the Blue Eagles and the Growling Tigers looking to protect their spotless marks in this prestigious collegiate tournament.
Meanwhile, De La Salle University and National University seek to bounce back from sorry losses when they collide at 12:30 p.m. while Adamson University tries to book back-to-back victories when it tangles with University of the East in the featured battle at 4 p.m.
After ruling the league for the past two years, the Blue Eagles are off to a sizzling start.
They crushed Adamson, 70-52, before dominating rival La Salle, 81-69, in a brilliant display of speed, teamwork, maturity and basketball prowess that served as a warning to the rest of the league.
Against the Green Archers, brothers Mike and Matt Nieto stole the show, sparking a furious second-quarter rally to rip the game wide-open, 51-29, in the first 20 minutes of action.
Then, Gian Mamuyac jumped into the scoring parade, nailing eight of the Blue Eagles’ last 10 points en route to a masterful victory.
“This is a typical Ateneo-La Salle game. It was tough every step of the way,” said Ateneo coach Tab Baldwin, the American-Kiwi guru who used to handle the national men’s basketball team.
“I think that the breaks we had at the end of the second quarter came a surprise.”
But winning three straight is easier said than done.
The Tigers are slowly emerging into a powerhouse team, thanks to the brilliant coaching of Aldin Ayo and his crew of new recruits.
Ayo, who carried an underdog Letran College squad to the National Collegiate Athletic Association crown in 2015 before powering La Salle to the UAAP throne in 2016, is doing a great job building the Tigers from ground up using his trademark defense.
In their previous match against University of the Philippines, the Tigers’ prowess was in full display as unheralded rookie Mark Nonoy and veteran Renzo Subido engineered a blistering 11-0 run to book an impressive 85-69 victory.
Beninese enforcer Soulemane Chabi Yo served as a pillar of strength at the paint, finishing with 18 points and 18 rebounds while Nonoy and S ubido chipped in 16 and 13 markers, respectively, for the Tigers, who also drew an awesome performance from rookie Rhenz Abando.
Ayo said facing Baldwin and the Blue Eagles is like scaling a mountain.
“Well, obviously, Ateneo is the best team in the league,” said Ayo, obviously respecting the squad whom he faced in a lot of memorable battles when he was still with La Salle.
“All we want to do is to play them in a close game then let’s see what happens. We’re going there to give our best.”
Baldwin, however, said for they have to play incredible defense to neutralize the Tigers’ dizzying pace.
“Certainly, we have to make some systemic adjustments before we play them,” said the noted mentor.
“I don’t think we can beat them if they’re hitting their shots. We have to play unbelievable defense to match up with their pace.”