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Hot Ateneo eyes fifth win in row vs La Salle

Ateneo celebrates during the UAAP Season 81 match against NU at Smart Araneta Colieum, September 22, 2018 (Rio Leonelle Deluvio)

Ateneo celebrates during the UAAP Season 81 match against NU at Smart Araneta Colieum, September 22, 2018 (Rio Leonelle Deluvio)

By Waylon Galvez

Games Today
(Mall of Asia Arena, Pasay City)
12 pm – UST vs UE
4 pm – Ateneo vs La Salle

Ten months after winning the championship at the expense of its nemesis, defending champion Ateneo takes on De La Salle today as it tries to solidify its grip at second spot in the 81st UAAP men’s basketball at the Mall of Asia Arena (MOA) in Pasay City.

In last year’s finals, the Blue Eagles scored a stunning 88-86 win in Game 3 against the Green Archers that snapped a five-year title drought, and in the way avenged a painful finals loss in 2016.

Most of the main players of Ateneo in that title run are still around, including that game’s hero Isaac Go, who drilled in a booming three-pointer in the final moments, and Finals MVP Thirdy Ravena.

The two are expected to lead the Eagles – currently with a 5-1 card – as they try to extend their win streak this season to five games as they clash against the dangerous Archers at 4 p.m.

At 12 noon University of Santo Tomas and University of the East will collide as both teams aim to improve their record, which is 1-4 – tied at the bottom of the standings with National University.

Ateneo has been a force the past four games after a mediocre start when it suffered a surprising 74-70 defeat to Adamson University – the only remaining unbeaten team at 5-0.

After that, the Eagles annihilated their next four opponents, starting with an 87-79 win versus University of the Philippines, a 72-46 trashing off NU, an 89-62 triumph on UE, and an 85-53 beating on UST.

Against DLSU, however, Ateneo will be tested as the Archers have thrived minus Cameroonian MVP Ben Mbala, who opted to turn pro following the 2017 Season, and under rookie coach Louie Gonzales, tabbed to take over the place vacated by coach Aldin Ayo – now with UST.

Despite parading 11 players, as guard Kib Montalbo and New Zealand’s Taane Samual are still on the injured list, La Salle routed Ayo’s new team 99-72 last Sunday at the MOA Arena.

In that game, DLSU center Justin Baltazar had a career-best 22 points with 10 rebounds, while guard Aljun Melecio tied a personal season-high of 19 points with eight boards and three assists.

Gonzales said it’s about focusing on the game and not on what happened in the previous year.

“This is a new season, new challenge for us. Our focus is on the game and we prepared hard for this just like in our previous games,” said Gonzales. “We hope to bring the same intensity and energy.”

Aside from the two key players for both side, Go and Ravena for Ateneo, and Baltazar and Melecio of DLSU, the two teams will only rely on other contributors in this game.

Ateneo will also have Nieto brothers Matt and Mike, Anton Asistio, Aaron Black, Tyler Tio and Angelo Kouame of Ivory Coast, while DLSU Andrei Caracut, Jollo Go, Miggy Corteza, Leonard Santillan and Encho Serrano.