IS league-leader Jose Rizal for real?
The Heavy Bombers hope to prove that point when they face their toughest test yet in a game against the San Sebastian Stags on Saturday in the 88th NCAA men's basketball tournament at The Arena in San Juan.
The Bombers have emerged as the surprise team this season as they look to end a long title drought, lording it on top of the standings after winning their first three games.
Nate Matute has been a major factor in the Bombers’ perfect start as the senior swingman averaged 29.5 points in his last two games, including a scorching 13-for-19 shooting clip from three-point territory.
However, the Bombers' wins came against teams that missed the Final Four last year and Mapua, Arellano and Emilio Aguinaldo College are clearly not in the same level, talent-wise, as the Stags.
That makes the 6 p.m. game against the perennial title contenders a good gauge of how good the Bombers are this season.
“It will be a real test for us,” Bombers coach Vergel Meneses said. “We’ll be up against one of the top two teams in the league.”
For the Bombers to sustain their hot start, they have to find a way to contain the ultra-athletic Calvin Abueva, who registered a triple-double of 15 points, 15 rebounds, and 11 assists in the Stags’ 80-65 win over University of Perpetual Help last week.
“Kailangan masabayan namin ang intensity niya,” Meneses said.
But limiting the output of the reigning league MVP is not just the concern of the Bombers. Jose Rizal also must contain Ian Sangalang and Ronald Pascual -- the two other members of the Stags' dreaded `Pinatubo Trio.'
The brilliant plays of the Stags Big Three had been the reason why they've won their last two games and are tipped as the slight favorites over the Bombers.
The Stags did lose to the Bombers in the Filoil Flying V Preseason Cup, but coach Topex Robinson said that “we've learned from that.”
He still remains cautious of the Bombers, who also boast a defensive-oriented core led by Decoy Lopez, Alex Almario, and Michael Mabulac.
“JRU’s a tough nut to crack,” Robinson said. “We have to match their energy and intensity.”
The main game between the Stags and Bombers will be preceded by a match two hours earlier pitting Arellano and Lyceum, two teams hoping to register follow-up victories.
The Chiefs upset the Letran Knights, 77-67, last Saturday to finally barge into the win column after three losses.
The Pirates, on the other hand, are on a two-game winning streak after beating Mapua, 76-72, just last Thursday.
In juniors’ division, the Lyceum Junior Pirates face the Arellano Braves at 12 p.m., while the San Sebastian Staglets take on the JRU Light Bombers at 2 o’clock.