GEE Abanilla is very much aware of the odds stacked against his La Salle Archers when they take on arch-rival Ateneo at the start of the Final Four on Saturday.
Ateneo has beaten La Salle in 11 of their last 12 meetings in the UAAP basketball tournament, including the last four. That included a sweep of their two meetings this year in Abanilla's first season as Archers coach.
Also, no fourth-seeded team has ever reached the finals since the Final Four format was instituted in the country's premier college league in 1994.
To do that, the Archers will have to win not just once but twice against an Ateneo team that has put together one of the most dominant reigns in the league, winning four championships in a row.
“We need all the advantage we can get,” said Abanilla in what could be the understatement of the season.
That doesn't mean, however, that Abanilla is giving up the fight. He is hoping three straight wins, counting a 69-66 win over Far Eastern University in a do-or-die game last Wednesday, have given the Archers the needed momentum going into their match against the Eagles.
“We are clearly the underdogs here. But right now, I think I’m happy with how we are playing. We are peaking at the right time,” said Abanilla.
The Green Archers are also hoping Ateneo would come out sluggish and rusty after a two-week break.
“Hopefully, the long layoff of Ateneo will do well for us,” Abanilla said.
Third-seed National University is more or less in the same boat, having lost both meetings to second-seed University of Santo Tomas this season.
NU coach Eric Altamirano, however, hopes to ride the momentum of four successive victories at the end of the elimination round - the last a win over FEU that guaranteed the Bulldogs' first appearance in the Final Four in 11 years.
If Altamirano is also in search of motivation, he need not look far. Their opponent, second-seed UST, was the last team to win a championship as a third seed back in Pido Jarencio's first season as coach in 2006.
“It’s a clean sheet,” said NU star and this year’s MVP Bobby Ray Parks. “Even though it is twice-to-beat, it’s the playoffs. We have to prepare hard especially with a team who beat us twice.”