ARCH-RIVALS De La Salle and Ateneo clash for the first time this UAAP season in a rare morning match where neither is willing to accept the role of favorite.
Defending champion La Salle is the consensus top favorite and Ateneo the 'unknown quantity' after a major rebuilding, but the formcharts took a beating when the Green Archers lost to Far Eastern University, 77-82, and the Blue Eagles pounded Adamson, 79-57, in their debut.
Still, Ateneo coach Bo Perasol insisted La Salle holds all the advantage heading to the 11 a.m. match before an anticipated sellout crowd at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
“Walang ka-edge edge ang Ateneo sa La Salle,” said Perasol, who fell short of a Final Four appearance in his first season as Ateneo coach. “Kahit anong tignan mo, kahit anong position."
On the other hand, Juno Sauler said he can't make a fair judgement of the Blue Eagles simply because he hasn't seen them enough. The former five-time champions stayed away from preseason tournaments after re-stocking their lineup with some blue-chip rookies.
But at least, Sauler can expect his Green Archers to play with a lot more fire after crashing back to earth against an FEU team that played its first game since losing stars Terrence Romeo and RR Garcia to the pro ranks.
There is no doubt in Perasol's mind, however, that the Green Archers have all the aces with a deep, talent-laden lineup that boasts of Jeron Teng, Arnold Van Opstal, and Jason Perkins.
“Again, they only say that when it comes to Ateneo versus La Salle, it’s going to be a different ballgame. But when you consider the facts, I don’t think any basketball aficionado will give us a chance against La Salle,” he said.
Ateneo, though, will be no pushover with Kiefer Ravena looking like a man on a mission against Adamson, scoring 22 points while running the show from the backcourt.
But league coaches acknowledge that Ateneo's rookies like Arvin Tolentino and Thirdy Ravena will have to grow up quickly if the Blue Eagles are to have a chance against their bitter rivals.
In the second game, the FEU Tamaraws seek a fitting follow-up to the win over La Salle when they take on last year's losing finalist University of Santo Tomas in the 4 p.m. game.
The Tigers are looking to bounce back from a 59-40 loss to the National University Bulldogs last week.