LEAGUE-leading Ateneo tries to close in on a twice-to-beat advantage, FEU looks to make up for lost ground in the battle for second place and National University hopes to tighten its grip on fourth place as the race to the semifinals resumes on Thursday in the UAAP men’s basketball tournament at the Philsports Arena in Pasig City.
The Blue Eagles (10-2) and the Bulldogs (7-4) collide at 4 p.m. in what could be a preview of one crossover semifinal match pitting the top-ranked team against the one ranked No. 4.
Four-time defending champion Ateneo is looking to wrap up at least a playoff for the twice-to-beat advantage in the Final Four while the Bulldogs are hoping to put more distance between them and fifth-running La Salle (7-5).
Ateneo sits firmly on top of the standings, but will try to prevent another slip-up after the surprise pulled off by Chris Javier and the UE Warriors recently. After NU, the Blue Eagles wrap up their elimination schedule on Saturday against UST, which beat them in the first round.
“It’s going to be a pretty rough week for us but I’m pacing my players,” said Ateneo coach Norman Black, whose team is coming off a 79-72 win over Adamson last Sunday.
Black’s concern mainly is on defense especially after NU star Bobby Ray Parks came up with 32 points in a 72-62 win over La Salle last Sunday.
“Our defense has been a little bit suspect this season. If they bring energy to their game, they’ll be able to play defense,” said Black.
The Bulldogs are still not assured of a Final Four berth with De La Salle just right behind them.
“They outplayed us in the first round,” said NU coach Eric Altamirano. “We are not thinking ahead, we want to concentrate against Ateneo because we know that it’s a tough match-up.”
The third-running Tamaraws (8-3) eye a share of second place with idle UST (9-3) when they take on bottom team UP (1-11) in the curtain-raiser at 2 p.m.
The Tamaraws are still in contention for at least the second spot for a twice-to-beat edge in the Final Four with their 8-3 record, just half-a-game behind University of Santo Tomas.
FEU can’t afford to lose in its remaining games against UP, La Salle (September 16) and NU (September 23).
“Kahit UP, importante para sa amin. Importante na lahat ng games namin. Kung matalo kami, baka malaglag kami sa No. 3,” FEU coach Bert Flores said.