WHO really is the best in Philippine college basketball?
La Salle and Southwestern University, representing Manila and Cebu, respectively, fight for the coveted honor as they collide on Monday in Game One of the Philippine Collegiate Champions League Finals at The Arena in San Juan.
Out of over 250 teams from 37 leagues across the archipelago, the Green Archers and the Cobras are the two teams that remained standing. And they meet at 4 p.m. seeking to gain a head start in the best-of-three series.
The Archers are no strangers to this grand stage, having been former PCCL champions five years ago. And with a powerhouse cast led by Jeron Teng, Almond Vosotros, and Norbert Torres, the reigning UAAP champions are tipped as favorites to capture the crown again.
The matchup between the two major cities in the country could add spice to the Finals, but Archers coach Juno Sauler is just welcoming the chance to play a proud provincial squad in SWU, which had to go through a steep road in the qualifiers before eventually becoming just the second team from outside Manila to qualify to the championship round.
The format of the single-round Final Four grants one automatic slot to a provincial team, which turned out the be the Cobras, who defeated Cesafi rivals University of San Carlos and defending champion University of Visayas to clinch the semifinal berth.
“More than the (Manila-Cebu) rivalry, what’s nice is for people to recognize that there are also strong college teams from the South,” Sauler said. “That’s why it’s a nice opportunity that we’re giving a chance for those teams to show what their basketball style is.”
The Archers, for being the UAAP champions, gained a Final Four slot outright like NCAA champion San Beda, while Far Eastern University was the fourth semifinalist after topping the Luzon-Metro Manila qualifiers.
The Archers are definitely not taking the Cobras lightly, more so after their 58-68 overtime loss to the Cesafi runners-up in the opening day of the Final Four.
“Southwestern is a strong team,” Sauler admitted. “We just have to review what we did wrong, things we can take advantage of, and hopefully we can execute the game plan.”
Despite their victory over the Archers, the Cobras are well aware they remain the underdogs.
“Again, let’s see what will happen,” said Cobras coach Yayoy Alcoseba, who will count on backcourt duo Mark Tallo and Monbert Arong and African center Landry Sanjo.
The Archers have to especially mark Tallo, the former Archer who is out to prove he made the right decision to transfer to SWU last year.
“I haven’t seen him play in the Cesafi, but he has improved a lot from the last time I saw him in La Salle,” Sauler said of Tallo. “He has added another dimension to his game, so that’s something also to watch out for."