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Game Today (Mall of Asia Arena)
4 p.m. – Ateneo vs FEU
By JONAS TERRADO
A monster lurks in the way of Ateneo’s bid to arrange a dream title showdown with archrival La Salle as the UAAP Final Four resumes today.
That monster is defending champion Far Eastern University, which is determined to force a rubber match in their 4 p.m. encounter at the Mall of Asia Arena, and Ateneo coach Tab Baldwin said that his young team will be in for a difficult challenge.
“I think FEU’s gonna be a monster in these games,” Baldwin said after the Blue Eagles finished the double-round eliminations with six straight wins to snatch the No. 2 seed away from the Tamaraws.
The Blue Eagles carry a twice-to-beat advantage against the Tamaraws, while needing to win only once to earn the right to face the favored Green Archers in the best-of-three championship series.
La Salle secured a place in the finals after surviving Adamson, 69-64, last Wednesday despite a jittery performance that upset Green Archers coach Aldin Ayo.
It will be the second straight year that FEU and Ateneo meet in the Final Four. Last season, the twice-to-beat Tamaraws barely won when Mac Belo scored a buzzer-beating putback that broke the hearts of the Kiefer Ravena-led Blue Eagles.
The tables have turned this time, with the young Blue Eagles, who no longer have Ravena, carrying the incentive against the Tamaraws, who remain a title contender despite losing Belo, Mike Tolomia, Roger Pogoy, Russell Escoto, Alfrancis Tamsi and Achie Inigo.
“(FEU has) the experience, their coaching staff has the most experience, and for one second we don’t think of anything but being the underdog,” Baldwin said.
“Yes we are in a great position to win just one, but just let one game slip and it all comes down to one game. We got to stay focused on FEU and not think about anything else,” he added.
A win by Ateneo, which will be led by Thirdy Ravena, Isaac Go, Adrian Wong, Aaron Black, Raffy Verano and Mike and Jett Nieto, will witness the end of Nash Racela’s four-season spell as FEU coach.
Racela is heading to the PBA to coach TNT Katropa after the UAAP campaign. But he is determined to give the Tamaraws another title despite struggling late in the elims with a three-game losing skid that ended with a victory over University of the East.
But Racela expressed concerns that the dream La Salle-Ateneo showdown could become a reality, something he would like a spoil.
“I’m confident who we face in the Final Four, but ang problema ko is the dream matchup,” Racela said, obviously taking a jab at the officiating. “I have a different dream, there’s a different matchup in my dream.”
He will bank on Raymar Jose, Monbert Arong, Jojo Trinidad, Axel Inigo, Wendell Comboy and Prinze Orizu as FEU tries to force a jugular on Wednesday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.