By Jerome Lagunzad
(Mall of Asia Arena)
2 p.m. – UE vs La Salle
4 p.m. – UST vs Adamson
University of the East star Alvin Pasaol played the game of his life exactly three weeks ago when he erupted for 49 points in what could be the most explosive offensive performance seen in the league over the past 15 years.
His feat was even more meaningful as he did it against defending champion La Salle.
But UE fans should not expect the same explosion from Pasaol as the reigning league MVP Ben Mbala and the peaking Green Archers are determined to slow him down in their bid to clinch the second semis berth in the UAAP Season 80 basketball tourney at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Tip off is at 2 p.m., with La Salle out to repeat a 106-100 victory over UE last Oct. 4, stretch its winning streak to four matches, firm up its grip on the second spot and join archrival Ateneo in the next round.
Achieving such goals is easier said than done for the Green Archers since the Red Warriors are also eager to sustain their own resurgence after winning three of their last four matches and keep themselves in playoff contention.
All eyes, however, will be on the 6-foot-3 Pasaol, who’s been on an offensive tear following his jaw-dropping offensive brilliance against one of the most tenacious defensive squads thriving on what is famously known as “Mayhem” defense.
“I’m expecting La Salle to play tougher defense and we’re expecting Mbala to defend him,” said UE coach Derrick Pumaren, reminding Pasaol to brace himself up for an expected tough grind after averaging 29.2 points in their last five games.
“I’m sure they will work on trying to stop Alvin. Probably they’re thinking if they stop Alvin, they’ll stop UE. I’m sure there’s a lot of pride at stake dahil he got his record of 49 against them.”
Battling in the main match set at 4 p.m. are Adamson and eliminated University of Santo Tomas, with the Soaring Falcons favored to assert their mastery over the bleeding Growling Tigers and put their title campaign back on track.
A repeat 88-81 win in their previous meeting last Sept. 16 will enable the Soaring Falcons to recover from an 80-74 loss to the Green Archers over the weekend and inch closer towards the third semis spot. The Growling Tigers, off to their worst start in the Final Four era, are aching to finally end a long dry spell.
Much of the spotlight is expected to fall on the initial offering, with shifty guard Ricci Rivero also determined to sustain his own groove after a so-so start to his sophomore season with the Green Archers.
“Before hinahanap ko talaga ‘yung tira ko. Pero ngayon, mas iniisip ko na kailangan maka-create ako para sa du’n sa teammates ko. Kailangan mai-run ko ‘yung play ng maayos para may ma-open samin,” said Rivero, who is good for 19.0 points, 3.0 rebounds, 2.3 assists and as many steals in the course of their latest winning run.
For Pasaol, the Red Warriors still cannot afford to outgun the loaded Green Archers. “Kailangan namin dumipensa ng maigi para matalo sila. Hindi lang naman kasi sa opensa iikot ‘yung laro,” he said.