Top seed Fatima U insists on underdog tag vs three-time Naascu finalist St. Clare
Fatima University coach Ralph Rivera and St. Clare College mentor Jino Manansala lead their respective teams in what they both expect will be a tough battle for the Naascu crown. Reuben Terrado

OUR Lady of Fatima University and St. Clare College see a difficult battle for the top prize in the 16th National Athletic Association of Schools, Colleges, and Universities (Naascu) crown.

The Phoenix and Saints clash in Game One of their best-of-three showdown on Tuesday, 4 p.m. at the Makati Coliseum, the same venue for the rest of the series, to be aired live on Basketball TV.

But top-seed Fatima University, owners of a league-leading 10-3 mark after the eliminations, believed it is the underdog against St. Clare, which finished second with a 9-4 slate. Coach Ralph Rivera said the team is coming into the best-of-three finals without any thought that winning the crown will be easy, believing that St. Clare has all the advantage in the series.

 “First time kasi ng school na pumasok sa championship,” said Rivera during a press conference on Monday hosted by Solar Entertainment. “From the start, ini-instill ko sa mga bata ‘yung underdog mentality. Nag-number one kami pero feeling pa rin, kailangan pa rin namin mag-trabaho.”

Meanwhile, the Saints look to finally win it all after finishing runner-ups three consecutive times to Centro Escolar University, which has since moved to the UCBL. But coach Jino Manansala is not taking Fatima University lightly.

“Hinog na ‘yung  mga bata pero hindi namin makukuha ng madali ‘yung championship. Para sa akin, dadaan pa kami sa butas ng karayom,” said Manansala, a former University of Santo Tomas cager.

St. Clare won its elimination round encounter with the Saints beating the Phoenix, 71-54 last September 2.

“Convincing ‘yung victory nila. Kailangan namin sila pag-aralan. Complete ang line-up nila from third group. Kami naman, as a team, magbibigay kami ng magandang competition,” said Rivera, a former San Beda Red Lion in the 1990s.

Fatima will lean on Joseph Marquez, who already had stints in the PBA D-League and the PCBL this year, and Martin Gozum, while Paeng Rebugio and Aris Dionisio hope to finally bring the title for the Saints, who last won the Naascu crown in 2012. 

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