TOP seeds collide in the 2019 PBA D-League semifinals when Cignal-Ateneo and Valencia City Bukidnon-SSCR kickstart their best-of-three series on Monday at Paco Arena in Manila.
The Blue Eagles are riding on a seven-game winning streak heading into the Final Four, and coach Tab Baldwin sure is happy with how his wards have responded over the past few games.
"Again, we're using this as our preparations, but we're happy to see that our players are running our system to a tee," said deputy coach Sandy Arespacochaga after Cignal-Ateneo gutted out a 67-60 win over Chadao-FEU last week in the quarterfinals.
Once again, Ivorian big man Ange Kouame will be looked at to lead the fight for the reigning UAAP champions Blue Eagles, with Thirdy Ravena and Isaac Go expected to make their presence felt in the 4 p.m. game.
Equally motivated are the Golden Harvest, who have extended their win run to six with a 93-87 overtime victory over Che'Lu last week.
RK Ilagan and Allyn Bulanadi have been the torch bearers for Valencia-SSCR, but in the past few games, guys like JM Calma, Alex Desoyo and Emmanuel Bonleon have stepped up.
"We're happy that we made it to the semifinals. But alam naman natin ang Ateneo, they're one of the best teams in college. We'll just try to be ready sa kanila," said San Sebastian coach Egay Macaraya.
St. Clare College Virtual Reality and Centro Escolar University renew their rivalry at 2 p.m. to open their semifinals series.
"We want to show them that we're a different team, that this time, we are more ready for them," said coach Jinino Manansala as St. Clare has been the undisputed blue bloods in the NAASCU ever since CEU bolted the league for the UCBL.
The Saints have continued that tear in the developmental ranks, with Junjie Hallare, Joshua Fontanilla, and Ray Rubio being at the forefront of the ascent, including a 65-60 quarterfinal win over Metropac-San Beda last Tuesday.
The Scorpions, meanwhile, look to continue the run without seven key players who have been linked to game-fixing.
"I don't know of our chances. Hopefully, ma-sustain namin yung heart and yung intensity namin as a team," said coach Derrick Pumaren as his side pulled an inspirational 84-74 Game Two win over Go for Gold-CSB last Thursday.
Senegalese big man Maodo Malick Diouf will be the rock for CEU as Rich Guinitaran and Franz Diaz will be counted on to make valuable contributions for the eight-man squad.