FOR the first time in three years, Ateneo is the overwhelming favorite in its upcoming UAAP Season 81 duel against La Salle on Saturday.
The numbers back that up, with the Blue Eagles not only sitting at solo second in the standings but are also on top or near the top in almost all statistical categories.
Save for an opening-day setback to Adamson, Ateneo has implemented coach Tab Baldwin's balanced system to a tee to string up four straight victories.
The Blue Eagles have so far been the league's best offensive team, scoring 80.6 points on 50.8-percent shooting per game, both bests in the UAAP.
The Katipunan-based crew has also made a living in the perimeter, scoring a league-best 35.4 perimeter points and shooting on a 29.2-percent clip from downtown, third-best, while also making teams regret committing miscues with their 13.2 turnover points per outing.
Wealth has also been well-distributed for Ateneo, owning the league's best mark for bench points with 35.2 per game.
But Ateneo is not all offense, as the defending champion also allows the least points, limiting teams to just 62.8 points on 36.8-percent shooting.
That's quite a mark for a team owning a multitude of offensive talents like Thirdy Ravena, Isaac Go, and Ivorian big man Angelo Kouame.
La Salle, however, isn't that too far behind despite not having two-time UAAP MVP Ben Mbala this year and already losing key cogs in Kib Montalbo and Taane Samuel to injuries.
His team sitting at 3-2, coach Louie Gonzalez still has the confidence to rely on guys like Aljun Melecio, Santi Santillan, and Justine Baltazar in this much-awaited tiff, slated at 4 p.m. at Mall of Asia Arena.
Despite trotting only 11 men, the Green Archers have made it a point to dominate the boards, hauling down 49.6 rebounds per game and capitalizing on those opportunities with 18.2 second chance points.
La Salle also ranks second-best in points made with 76.6 points per outing -- 28.8 of those from the perimeter (second-best) and 33.2 in the paint (third-best).
However, if there's one thing Ateneo-La Salle rivalry games have shown in the past, it's that numbers mean little as both the blue and green side are hell-bent on fighting for pride, no matter the odds.