Ateneo de Manila University seeks to protect its immaculate slate when it renews its rivalry with dangerous Far Eastern University in Season 82 of the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) men’s basketball tournament today at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Action fires off at 4 p.m. with the Blue Eagles looking to capture their fourth straight win following a massive 71-70 win over erstwhile unbeaten University of Santo Tomas (UST) last Wednesday.
Meanwhile, University of the East tries to end its luckless start when it battles De La Salle University in the first game at 2 p.m.
But all eyes will be on Ateneo.
After ruling the league last year, the Blue Eagles picked up where they left off when they dominated Adamson University, 70-52, and La Salle, 81-69, in their first two matches.
But their biggest win was over UST.
With the Growling Tigers coming in with an immaculate record, reigning finals Most Valuable Player Thirdy Ravena came through with clutch baskets before watching sophomore CJ Cansino collapse with bad decisions down the stretch.
Ravena finished with 17 points, 10 rebounds, two assists and two steals while Ivorian Ange Kouame chipped in 11 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks for Ateneo, which displayed its championship poise down the stretch that caught UST by surprise.
Against Far Eastern University (FEU), that championship mettle would definitely be tested.
Ateneo coach Tab Baldwin said they have no choice but to play their hearts out, especially against the Tamaraws, who are coming off a one-week break.
“We have no time to take a break because we’re facing FEU this weekend,” said Baldwin, who is heavily rumored to be a candidate in the vacant coaching spot of Gilas Pilipinas.
“That’s why where we have to get our minds focussed next.”
Meanwhile, FEU coach Olsen Racela said facing Ateneo is like scaling a mountain due to its speed, chemistry and championship experience.
“Ateneo is really a heavyweight,” said Racela, who powered the Tamaraws to an 81-65 win over the Red Warriors last week, thanks to the speedy backcourt of Wendel Comboy and L-Jay Gonzales who finished with 24 and 14 points, respectively.
“We’re at a disadvantage but since we’re coming off a one-week break, I think we will be coming in fresh and hungry for this match.”