THE Ateneo Blue Eagles are past one of their two biggest struggles after they hurdled the defending champion Far Eastern University Tamaraws in the Final Four of the 79th University Athletic Association of the Philippines men’s basketball tournament last Wednesday.
Now, their big-man rotation will undergo another huge test when the Blue Eagles meet their arch-rivals the La Salle Green Archers in Game 1 of their best-of-three finals series at 3:30 p.m. today at the Mall of Asia Arena.
The Blue Eagles’ big-man rotation is one player short with G-Boy Babilonia still out on an ACL injury he suffered in their first-round game against La Salle.
Since then, Ateneo coach Tab Baldwin said the team has been getting by with young players like Isaac Go and Vince Tolentino, combining beautifully with Thirdy Ravena.
“He’s (Babilonia) our captain, one of our toughest rebounders. He’s important to the team and we lost him to ACL. Now, we have to face a tough interior defense that La Salle has. But we’ll keep going. We’ll find a way. These guys are going to enjoy the game,” said Baldwin.
Meanwhile, National University and La Salle meet at 11 a.m. in Game 1 of the women’s finals.
Ateneo’s young roster proved itself when 6’7” Go played good defense to lead Ateneo to a 69-68 triumph of FEU in their rubber match last Wednesday.
This will be their first finals showdown in eight years, with the Green Archers favored to win after reaching the finals with 14 wins and just one loss.
Their only loss in the season--interestingly to the Blue Eagles, 71-83--is something Green Archers’ coach Aldin Ayo, nor the team, will not forget.
“Motivated kami. Kasi, ‘di namin makalimutan iyung Nov. 5 na talo na iyun. Makes you wonder, kung gaano kahirap makapunta sa ganitong level,” said Ayo.
Despite that loss, La Salle is still seen as the clear favorite, with big man Ben Mbala able to dish out double-digit outputs per game.
Mbala is the odds-on pick to win MVP honors with averages of 20.7 points and 16 rebounds. Jeron Teng can back him up with 17. 5 points.
There’s also Aljun Melecio and Thomas Torres with 8.3 and 7.5 points, along with Kib Montalbo and Abu Tratter with their norms of 6.7 and 5.9 points.
Ravena is Ateneo’s top cager with 10.1 points and 7.7 rebounds, with John Wong, Michael Nieto and Anton Asistio and Go giving out the supporting numbers that can carry the Blue Eagles through.
Offensively, La Salle can average 86.9 points per game, while Ateneo can make 71.3.
The Green Archers are well rested and are coming off a 10-day break after hurdling the Adamson Soaring Falcons, 69-64, in the Final Four.
The last time Ateneo and La Salle met in the finals in 2008, the Blue Eagles finished with a 2-game sweep to win the title under coach Norman Black.
Ateneo entered the Final Four as the top-seeded team back then, while La Salle took the no. 2 ranking.
(Game 1 at the Mall of Asia Arena)
11 a.m. – NU vs DLSU (women’s Game 1)
3:30 p.m. Ateneo vs La Salle
(men’s Game 1)