Coach Joe Silva trusts Ateneo ready for the challenge against La Salle, juniors MVP Aljun Melecio
The Ateneo Blue Eaglets consider La Salle's Aljun Melecio as the thorn on their bid for a back-to-back UAAP championship. Dante Peralta

ATENEO knows containing reigning league MVP Aljun Melecio is an unenviable task but the Blue Eaglets assure they'll be more than ready when they battle De La Salle-Zobel in the stepladder playoffs of the UAAP Season 78 juniors basketball tournament.

Following their victory over Far Eastern University-Diliman on Wednesday, the Blue Eaglets next face a more challenging obstacle in their quest to repeat as champions as they need to win twice over the second seeded Junior Archers in the next round of the playoffs.

On top of Ateneo’s threats to neutralize is Melecio, the recently named top performer of the season who averaged a league-best 22.7 points, 7.1 rebounds, 3.3 assists, and 2.3 steals.

“Hindi na namin papapasukin ng San Juan Arena. Maglalagay siguro kami ng anim sa court, dalawa na (babantay) sa kanya,” said Ateneo coach Joe Silva in jest.

But Silva quickly turned serious as he knows from experience how potent Melecio is on the court. In the opening game of the season, Melecio scattered a season-high 42 points for the Junior Archers in an 84-71 victory over the Blue Eaglets last November.

“We will do our best to contain him because he is the MVP. It’s going to be hard but we will skew ways to stop him,” said Silva.

From winning the championship last season after sweeping the elimination round, the Blue Eaglets now find themselves at a disadvantage on their quest for back-to-back titles as the No. 3 seeded team.

Still, Silva remains unfazed, and instead hopes to turn their underdog status into a source of motivation for the team.

“It’s been a challenge but like I always tell the boys, mas masarap kapag mas mahirap. They are up for the challenge. We just have to stick together and stay as a team, then we will see,” said Silva.

The Ateneo coach also noted the importance of staying healthy ahead of their series against the Junior Archers. The Blue Eaglets have been riddled by health issues all season with shooting guard Jolo Mendoza battling headaches and Shaun Ildefonso suffering a sprain during the match against FEU.

“More important for us is to stay healthy and then we will see from there… As long as we are healthy, I think we can give La Salle a good fight,” said Silva.

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