IT'S going to be defense against offense as reigning titlist Centro Escolar University and top contender Colegio de San Lorenzo start their best-of-three finals series in the Universities and Colleges Basketball League (UCBL) Season 2 on Saturday at the Olivarez Coliseum in Sucat, Parañaque City.
The Scorpions, without prized center Rod Ebondo, should come in as underdogs in their 2 p.m. showdown with the reloaded Griffins boosted by the return of pro league aspirant Jon Gabriel.
Both squads, which finished 1-2 in the double-round eliminations, thrive on contrasting styles, with CEU getting the job done behind its vaunted defensive pressure and CdSL raring to step on the gas at every opportunity.
“I like our chances (of a title repeat), but we’re the clear underdogs now that we cannot have Rod back,” said Scorpions coach Yong Garcia, referring to their 6-foot-7 Ebondo who flew back to Congo to suit up for the country in the African World Cup qualifiers.
In contrast, the Griffins are back at full strength with the 6-foot-6 Gabriel reuniting with do-it-all Benin native Soulemane Chabi Yo to form a formidable frontcourt duo.
The lanky Gabriel showed what he can bring to the table last Thursday, collecting 13 points, four rebounds and two blocks in 22 minutes of play off the bench while leading CdSL to a 78-61 win over Olivarez College in their knockout duel.
“We’re really a different team when Jon is around. He can disrupt the flow of our opponents defensively and he can also create mismatches on the offensive end. He’s really a big asset for us,” said Griffins coach Boni Garcia.
“CEU is a very competitive team. They’re the defending champions so they know what it takes to win. For us, we just need to control the tempo and maximize our strengths.”
Without Ebondo, mainstays Orlan Wamar, Judel Fuentes, Rich Guinitaran, and backup Nigerian slotman Ebuka Umeanozie should double their efforts to help the Scorpions’ cause.
Meanwhile, Olivarez College and Diliman College square off in the battle for third set at 12 noon.