AFTER a lopsided win over its rival in the first round, La Salle expects a tougher outing against Ateneo in their rematch as UAAP Season 79 seniors basketball tournament resumes on Saturday.
Coming off a 10-day respite due to the All Saints Day break, the league returns with a bang as a capacity crowd is expected to troop to the Smart Araneta Coliseum to witness the battle of the two long-time archrivals at 4 p.m.
The first time La Salle and Ateneo met this season, however, turned out to be a blowout as the Green Archers trounced the Blue Eagles, 97-81, last October 2 at the Mall of Asia Arena with Ben Mbala dominating the match.
La Salle is now seeking its 13th win in its penultimate match in the elimination round, but standing in the way of a sweep is an Ateneo squad that’s far different from the team that lost to the Archers in the first round, according to coach Aldin Ayo.
The Blue Eagles strung up two straight wins, including a 65-50 victory over National University last October 23, to climb to third spot with a 6-4 slate entering their match against the Green Archers.
Ayo said the rivalry between the two schools will even motivate the Blue Eagles to do better in the rematch.
“Well-coached ang team na ‘yun at ‘yung mga players, sumusunod kay coach Tab (Baldwin). It’s La Salle-Ateneo so mawawala ‘yung standings. ‘Yung rivalry, lalabas ‘yan. For sure, lalabas ang laro nila,” said Ayo.
Ayo reiterated a possible elims sweep, which gives the team an automatic berth in the best-of-three finals, is the farthest from the minds of the Green Archers.
“We can’t skip. We are going one game at a time. We have to make sure na hindi namin iniisip kung ano ‘yung wala pa sa harap namin,” Ayo said.
Aside from Mbala, expected to play a key role for the Archers in the game against the Eagles is Jeron Teng, who will play in his final La Salle-Ateneo elimination round game of his collegiate career.
In the first game, National University hopes to break out of its alarming slump against University of the East at 12 p.m.
The Bulldogs have lost six straight games, including a 71-66 loss to University of the Philippines, to fall to a share of fifth spot in the team standings with the Maroons.
Already out of the running for a Final Four berth, UE (2-9) hopes to arrest a three-game skid.