Expect fireworks and a mammoth crowd as reigning champion Ateneo and University of the Philippines lock horns in the last and decisive “Battle of Katipunan” at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City Friday night, May 13.
Tipoff is at 6 p.m. as the Blue Eagles and the Fighting Maroons clash in a winner-take-all Game 3 of the UAAP Season 84 men’s basketball Finals.
Momentum is on Ateneo’s side now as the reigning titlist bounced back in Game 2 with a 69-66 victory and forced a rubber match behind the efforts of Season 84 Most Valuable Player Ange Kouame, Dave Ildefonso, and Tyler Tio.
Per head statistician Pong Ducanes, the Maroons have yet to lose in back-to-back games this season and the Eagles find themselves in an ultimate test in Friday’s Game 3.
UP drew first blood in Game 1 with an 81-74 win in overtime as James Spencer, Zavier Lucero, Carl Tamayo, and Ricci Rivero connived in the clutch.
The Maroons, hoping to end their 36-year UAAP title drought, also dealt the Eagles back-to-back losses since their last elimination round game on Labor Day.
The Diliman-based squad eked out an 84-83 win to snap Ateneo’s historic 39-match win streak since October 2018.
For Eagles head coach Tab Baldwin though, everything is just a thing of the past now as Ateneo is out to rewrite history in pursuit of a four-peat since winning the UAAP title in Season 80.
After all, it’s now or never for both the top squads.
“Heading into Game 3, we have to put everything that happened in Game 2 behind us now,” said Baldwin. “We have a whole new challenge in front of us so whatever work we did, whatever sacrifices we made in the last few days — and they were significant — we should be expecting facing the same thing [in Game 3].”
The Eagles rely on a tight core in Kouame, who has repeatedly proven why he was hailed the Season’s MVP, Ildefonso, who finally found his groove in Game 2, SJ Belangel’s wits and craftiness, and the veteran presence of Tio and Gian Mamuyac.
The Maroons, for their part, bury the grave mistakes they have committed in Game 3, especially in the endgame where Ricci Rivero had lost sense of Ateneo’s lead and took too long to cross the ball over its side.
Down 69-65, Rivero just realized the situation he was in after forcing a foul with two seconds left.
He split his free throw, intentionally missing the second shot in the hopes of getting an offensive rebound for a quick conversion, but it did not materialize as Ildefonso secured the board.
UP head coach Goldwin Monteverde took responsibility for that last play and vowed to bounce back and learn from that costly error.
“Kung ano mga mali, ano mga lapsesm alam namin na doon kami mag-i-improve and definitely we’re gonna work on it,” said the multi-titled juniors’ champion coach. “Kahit nga ‘yong pagitan ng game would be one day lang, but we still talk about things and really work hard for it.”
Joining in the fray to provide for the Maroons are the familiar names in Rivero, Tamayo, Lucero, Spencer, Malick Diouf, and JD Cagulangan.