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    Race to the UAAP crown heats up as Final Four tips off

    May 3, 2022
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    Second seed UP takes on No. 3 La Salle as top-seeded Ateneo battles No. 4 FEU.
    PHOTO: UAAP

    GONE are the pretenders and only the contenders remain in the UAAP Season 84 men's basketball tournament as the Final Four commences on Wednesday at the Mall of Asia Arena.

    After just over five weeks of eliminations, four teams remain in the hunt for the title in the first UAAP tournament in two years.

    University of the Philippines, armed with a twice-to-beat advantage, meets La Salle at 2 p.m., while defending champion Ateneo, also with the twice-to-beat edge, face off against old rival Far Eastern University at 6 p.m.

    GOING UP AND UP: UP's confidence is at an all time high after Sunday's monumental 84-83 win over Ateneo to end the latter's 13-0 start and 39-game win streak. It's a statement game from the Fighting Maroons as they head to this match against La Salle. UP is motivated to make the most of its twice-to-beat incentive and avoid a repeat of Season 82 where it fumbled its golden chance against University of Santo Tomas. The Diliman side swept the season-series against their Taft counterparts, 61-59 in the first round, and 72-69 in the second round.

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    Justine BaltazarJustine Baltazar and the Archers try to force a decider against the Maroons.

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    BALTI'S BACK: Fighting to extend his collegiate career, Justine Baltazar will be back in action for the Final Four. Sitting out Sunday's 76-65 win over National University due to a sprain, the Gilas Pilipinas forward is coming in hungry as he doesn't want his amateur years to end at this point. Baltazar's return should be a big boost for the Green Archers with the Kapampangan banger netting 12.69 points and 10.46 rebounds for the season, while also determined to bounce back against his former national team peer Carl Tamayo.

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    REVENGE TOUR: No longer pressured by its win streak, Ateneo can now focus on the bigger goal which is to continue its quest for a four-peat. It starts against FEU where the Katipunan side had ease hurdling, taking the 79-70 first round win and a dominant 70-53 outing in the second round. Ange Kouame, the leading MVP contender, is also looking forward to his third faceoff against Emman Ojuola as the Blue Eagles attempt to win the first of three games on a path to extend their dynasty.

    THIRD TIME'S A CHARM: FEU lost both of its elimination duels against Ateneo, but coach Olsen Racela can take pride knowing that his side made the defending champion sweat in both of those matchups. Now, it's all a matter of getting it all together with RJ Abarrientos and L-Jay Gonzales bearing the brunt of the weight as the Tamaraws shoot for the upset and win over the Blue Eagles for the first time since October 2018.

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    PLAYER TO WATCH: Baltazar will have the spotlight on him as he possibly plays his final UAAP game and what better way for him to do just that in La Salle's attempt to live to fight one more day. He did have his numbers the last time the two teams faced off, nabbing 16 points, 12 rebounds, five assists, two steals, and two blocks, but it was a tough shooting night from the field for him, going only 6-of-22 as the lengthy UP defense made every shot hard for him. If he can hurdle those challenges, seeing this series go to a do-or-die won't be that much of a remote possibility.

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    Second seed UP takes on No. 3 La Salle as top-seeded Ateneo battles No. 4 FEU.
    PHOTO: UAAP
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