DE La Salle coach Juno Sauler doesn’t want the tag ‘favorites’ or ‘team-to-beat’ get in the Green Archers’ heads going to the team’s debut game in Season 77 of the UAAP men’s basketball tournament against Far Eastern University on Saturday at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum.
The Archers open their title defense against the Tamaraws at 4 p.m. in the main game of a season-opening doubleheader.
Going to their first game of the season, the Archers have emerged as the overwhelming favorites to repeat as champions, thanks to an intact lineup led by Jeron Teng, Arnold Van Opstal, and Almond Vosotros.
Following their dramatic conquest of last year’s championship against University of Santo Tomas, the Archers also came away with two more crowns by capturing the Philippine Collegiate Champions League and the Filoil preseason tournament.
“Whatever their opinion, we don’t want to put that in our heads,” said Sauler. “What’s more important is that what we go through everyday. What happened in the past is past. People have their opinion about the future. We try to keep our mind off those opinions.”
La Salle will face FEU in a rematch of last year’s Final Four won by the Archers.
The Tamaraws, however, are entering the season without last year’s MVP Terrence Romeo and RR Garcia, who are now both in the pro league.
Still, Sauler sees FEU as a formidable opponent.
“I know they lost two players but from what I saw in the Filoil, they are playing as a team, they are well-coached. It’s going to be a tough game for us,” said Sauler.
Without Romeo and Garcia, focus will now be on Mark Belo and Mike Tolomia as the Tamaraws try to equal last year’s hot start that saw them complete a seven-game sweep of the first round.
“It’s going to be tough because we are facing the defending champions,” said FEU coach Nash Racela.
Host University of the East and University of the Philippines meanwhile, officially open the new season when they tangle in the first game at 2 p.m.
Now under the tutelage of former PBA coach Derrick Pumaren, the Red Warriors led by Roi Sumang, Charles Mammie, and rookie Moustapha Arafat hope to break into the Final Four this season after coming one victory short of the semifinals last year.
The Maroons went winless last season, but are out to break that dismal mark. As part of the preparations of the team coached by Rey Madrid in the preseason, the Maroons competed in a tournament in Taiwan just recently.