Ateneo, UP eye short route to finals vs FEU, De La Salle

Published May 4, 2022, 12:39 AM

by Carlo Anolin

Reigning champion and top seed team Ateneo seeks to bounce back stronger and finish the job in one game against Far Eastern University while University of the Philippines will ride the momentum of its recent success when it takes on De La Salle in the semifinals of the UAAP Season 84 men’s basketball tournament at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City Wednesday, May 4.

Dave Ildefonso of Ateneo and Zavier Lucero of University of the Philippines serve as anchors for their respective teams vying for the coveted Finals seat against Far Eastern University and De La Salle, respectively, in the UAAP Season 84 men’s basketball tournament at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City on Wednesday, May 4. (UAAP Media Bureau)

The Fighting Maroons and the Green Archers open the curtains in their 2 p.m. encounter while the Blue Eagles and the Tamaraws clash at 7 p.m. to cap off the traditional Final Four double-header.

Season 84 marks the first time in 28 years that Ateneo, UP, De La Salle and FEU comprise the Final Four cast.

After the Eagles’ 84-83 loss against the Maroons last May 1, their first defeat of the season, head coach Tab Baldwin vowed to regroup as soon as possible in just a span of two days.

Being at the top position in the post-season gave all the more reason for Baldwin and his wards to remind themselves that there is no room for complacency against an FEU squad that secured its eighth straight Final Four berth, the longest current streak in the league’s men’s basketball.

Ateneo, for its part, is just a year behind with seven consecutive Final Four appearances.

For those past seven years, the Eagles, who finished the elimination round at 13-1 record, and the Tamaraws, who came alive with a 7-7 slate, had met in the post-season five times except Seasons 77 and 82.

“They’re (FEU) very good and like whenever we play a semifinal with Ateneo, we run up against FEU and the history there is one of a lot of difficulties. We don’t expect anything less,” said Baldwin, whose team, paraded by Ange Kouame, Dave Ildefonso, SJ Belangel, Gian Mamuyac, Raffy Verano, among others, saw its 39-game win streak since October 2018 snap in front of a strong 10,512 spectators during the second “Battle of Katipunan” of the season.

“You know, Olsen (Racela) just does a great job and they’re gonna be ready… They gave us a hard time in the last game and then we separated in the second half but they’re gonna fancy their chances for sure.”

The Tamaraws lean on a young core in Ljay Gonzales, RJ Abarrientos, Xyrus Torres, Bryan Sajonia, and Emman Ojuola.

Meanwhile, UP (12-2), which shares a twice-to-beat advantage with Ateneo, uses a four-game win streak as a springboard for a better performance against another powerhouse team in De La Salle (9-5).

The Maroons, entering the Final Four scene for the third straight time, only lost twice this season against the Eagles in the first round and the Soaring Falcons in the second.

UP has shown versatility and teamwork with different players stepping up each game spearheaded by Zavier Lucero and Carl Tamayo. Court general JD Cagulangan worked behind the scenes, Malick Diouf proved that he’s a force to be reckoned with in the paint, while CJ Cansino and Ricci also had their fair share of contributions for the Diliman-based squad.

Over in Taft, all eyes would be on Justine Baltazar and Deschon Winston, who both missed their game in the Archers’ 76-65 win over the National University Bulldogs due to sprain and back spasms, respectively, as the two could form a deadly one-two punch.

Evan Nelle and Mark Nonoy get their hands full in the backcourt, Kurt Lojera provides consistent scoring output, while energizer-bunny Michael Phillips takes care of rebounding duties for the third-ranked De La Salle.

A Friday playdate, May 6 is set if necessary should FEU and De La Salle win against Ateneo and UP, respectively.