By Jerome Lagunzad
(Mall of Asia Arena)
2 p.m. – UE vs Ateneo
4 p.m. – FEU vs UP
Although it has already cemented its place in the Final Four round, Ateneo knows it still cannot afford to put its foot off the pedal, with its future rivals plotting nothing less than a big ambush.
So the Blue Eagles intend to show up with their deadly form today when they take on the dangerous Red Warriors of University of the East in the UAAP basketball tournament at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Tip off is at 2 p.m., with Ateneo raring to reassert its mastery over UE following a solid 83-65 win more than a month ago, extend its unbeaten start to 11 matches and clinch the first twice-to-beat incentive in the semifinals.
It’s easier said than done, however, since the Blue Eagles are starting to show chinks in their seemingly invincible armor after trailing at halftime in their last two matches before re-gathering their acts in time to pull through.
“We’ve got a big target on our backs and it’s not gonna get easier from here on in. So we’ve got to make sure that our focus remains on the next game,” said Ateneo assistant Sandy Arespacochaga.
Squaring off in another crucial encounter for the fourth – and final playoff spot – set at 4 p.m. are host Far Eastern University and slumping University of the Philippines.
The Tamaraws intend to get back on track following a 70-59 loss to the Blue Eagles last week while the Fighting Maroons are scrambling to rediscover their fine groove after dropping five of their last six matches.
UP coach Bo Perasol is hoping he has motivated his wards enough after a fiery and long pep talk the last time out.
“If you fail, you cannot stop. But you have to own up to it,” was one of his strong messages to the Fighting Maroons.
FEU handily beat UP, 78-59, last Oct. 1 and Tamaraws coach Olsen Racela knows exactly what they need to do for a repeat win. “They’re a very dangerous team kaya dapat maganda ang depensa namin,” he said.
Playing a sustained solid defense should also be the name of the game for the Blue Eagles against the Red Warriors, especially on top forward Alvin Pasaol, the league’s second-best leading scorer with 22.3 points per game.
However, the 6-foot-3 Pasaol knows it won’t take a one-man wrecking crew to stop an Ateneo side thriving on a balanced attack and disciplined defensive scheme, hoping his UE teammates can rise to the occasion.
For his part, UE coach Derrick Pumaren intends to see the Red Warriors keep their sagging playoff bid alive. “I told them ‘We still have to remain positive. We still have a shot and we’re still there. We just have to do a better effort.’”