NATIONAL University attempt to make an early statement when the season host and pre-tournament favorite open UAAP Season 75 with a game against University of the East at the brand-new SM Mall of Asia Arena.
Expectations are high on the Bulldogs and their undisputed star, Bobby Ray Parks, as they emerged in the preseason as the consensus pick to spoil the five-peat bid of defending champion Ateneo.
Fresh from their championship run in the Filoil Flying V Preseason Hanes Cup, the Bulldogs are heavy favorites over the rebuilding Warriors but coach Eric Altamirano is quick to play down expectations.
“At this point, the only thing we want to do is prepare one game at a time,” said Altamirano. “We just want to try and relax and not put too much pressure on ourselves.”
In the day's other game, Far Eastern University tries to reinforce its status as a legitimate title contender when they play another potential Final Four candidate in University of Santo Tomas at 4 p.m.
A colorful opening rites beginning at 12:30 p.m. precede the doubleheader.
Unlike in past years when most of the focus is on the cage teams, this time all team captains from different sports will parade at center court.
An amazing light and sound show prepared by the host school will serve as the highlight.
For a team that missed the Final Four last season, the Red Warriors have nothing to lose against the heavily-favored Bulldogs.
In the absence of marquee players, UE coach Jerry Codinera said it will take team effort for the Warriors to pull off an upset right on opening day.
“We want to grab any chance that we can get,” said the PBA's former top defensive player.
FEU coach Bert Flores is wary of the Tigers, who not only kept their nucleus intact for this season but also welcomed the return of Aljon Mariano and three-point sniper Clark Bautista.
“Bumalik na ‘yung mga shooters nila, siguro kailangan naming i-take advantage ‘yung inside presence namin,” said Flores.
Despite the loss of key starters from last year led by Aldrech Ramos, the Tamaraws have beefed up inside with the additions of American Anthony Hargrove, Mark Belo and Arvie Bringas.
Making the Final Four is the Tigers' modest goal for the season.
“Ang goal namin is to make it to the Final Four. Pero just like last year, we want to take it one game at a time kasi hindi rin natin masabi ‘yung progress ng season,” said UST coach Pido Jarencio.
Meanwhile, all UAAP games will be beamed live worldwide for the first time through The Filipino Channel starting on Saturday.
Nationwide broadcast will remain on Studio 23 and Balls HD, with replays on the same networks. The championship series will be broadcast on ABS-CBN Channel 2.