Well, it seems that after all the drama that we have seen from the elimination round and these final four games, these two teams are bound to face each other after all for the coveted UAAP senior’s basketball championship for 2017.
Last year, Ateneo pulled a surprise to everyone in the league by making it to the finals after losing key players Kiefer Ravena and Von Pessumal while La Salle was expected to be in finals, or better yet, win the championship even before the season had started after romping everyone in the FilOil Flying V pre-season cup.
But this year, it was a whole different story. Ateneo served notice in the league that it will be a force to reckoned with and they are determined to get back in the finals. Of course, with only one objective in mind: Which is to finish the job that they were not able to accomplish last year. As we all know, they entered the post-season as the #1 seed.
For La Salle, with the team losing lots of its seasoned veterans due to playing year eligibility, they were still considered and tipped to go back in the finals to defend the championship that they have won last year. This is because the players left to defend the crown are still stacked with talent most think enough to let the UAAP senior’s basketball championship stay in Taft Avenue.
In as much as I want to talk about statistics to serve as key factors on winning Game 1 tomorrow, I will not be a hypocrite to say that in an Ateneo-La Salle game, most of the time, statistics do not matter. It has been all about who wants to win it more. It has been all about who wants to exert and push themselves more to beat their bitter arch-rival.
In both elimination round games, Ateneo always had a good start and it seemed like it will post a convincing win over La Salle but as I have mentioned earlier, these rivalry games are all about who wants it more and the Green Archers have shown that they want it more than the Blue Eagles. The Blue Eagles got lucky in the first round but the Green Archers made sure that they finish the job in the second round and put a dent on Ateneo’s plans of a perfect elimination round campaign.
What we can talk about instead is what if La Salle starts strong and takes a big lead over Ateneo. I personally think that the Green Archers are bound for a breakout game against their arch-rival. On both elimination round encounters against Ateneo, the Green Archers seem to fall on gambling too much on defense which allows Ateneo to get into their spots and be comfortable on offense.
This is a scenario where I would like to see how Ateneo responds. Ateneo already showed that they can win off a comeback but on those teams probably that they are supposed to beat. I want to see how Ateneo will respond in case they fall off a big lead against La Salle at one point in a game. I personally also think that Ateneo already played their best games on those two elimination round match-ups while La Salle is due for one.
I will not be surprised as well if all finals games will be like the elimination round games, meaning, it will be close games. I honestly, if possible, do not want to see La Salle trail on double-digits on games like these and keep it a close or of course, establish a big lead to claim a wire-to-wire win. If it will be a close ending, I am hoping that the Green Archers will stay close and not trail too much in the game.
Rather than discussing the key players for this finals series, I would rather focus on who do you think will be the x-factors for this finals series. For La Salle, it is obvious that Ben and Ricci will be expected to take the scoring load for the Green Archers. Aljun will be the third guy possibly on that scoring list. I think Kib, Santi, and Jollo’s offensive spurts will be helpful and crucial for the Green Archers in this finals series.
Kib already registered his mark by hitting the game-leading shot on that second-round win against Ateneo. Santi’s offense was crucial on that final four win over Adamson. While Jollo, all-season long provided the spark that the team needs once he hit a triple as it brings a lot of energy to the team on both ends of the floor. Back in that final four win over Adamson, Jollo’s triple sparked the run which enabled the Green Archers to take the lead and eventually win the game.
For Ateneo, Thirdy, Matt Nieto, and yes, Isaac Go are your main guys on offense. If other players will be able to contribute like Mike Nieto, Anton Asistio, Jolo Mendoza, Raffy Verano and suddenly, Gian Mamuyac then it will be a more interesting and exciting finals series. Those three guys that I initially mentioned (Ravena, Matt Nieto, and Go) have their confidence sky high entering the finals series given their best performances on that do-or-die final four win against FEU.
With this, I expect those three players to be at the forefront of Ateneo’s offense tomorrow especially on cases where the shot clock is going down and Ateneo needs something to happen on their offense.
On defense, I always get the feedback and notion that in an Ateneo-La Salle game, it is always mayhem versus discipline type. I beg to disagree on those thoughts as I personally think that playing Coach Aldin’s mayhem defense also involves discipline in such a way that you should still think, read, and process when to gamble and when to stay in front of your opponent before trying to force a turnover.
At this point, all I can say is enjoy the series as it will be a competitive and hotly-contested one. Both teams are hungry to win it all. Ateneo is hungry to redeem themselves from last year’s defeat while La Salle is hungry to start a championship winning streak and let the title stay in the confines of Taft Avenue. Take note that there is no repeat champion for UAAP men’s basketball since Ateneo won it on their fourth and fifth straight men’s basketball titles in 2011 and in 2012.
No matter what happens on this finals series of course, it will always and forever be… Animo La Salle.