When it always comes down to who wants it more

After 10 months to be honest, Isaac Go’s dagger three is still on my mind. It does not help that ABS-CBN Sports and Action included that on their graphic so even if there’s a lull in UAAP action, if you watch on S&A, it puts you on a nightmarish flashback, especially those who were in Araneta Coliseum that fateful day.

A lot had happened since on our side in Taft Avenue. Your key players suddenly were out of the picture. The head coach also left for some strange reason. Suddenly, you felt like you’re starting all over again with the pieces in place in the team even if the coaching staff are the same, the core coaches I should say.

While on the other side of the fence, the team that stole your thunder 10 months ago are relatively intact. They got a new guy now which can help them win another championship this year or make them stay a legit title contender at the very least.

The season started with Ateneo suddenly losing all its glitz and preseason glamour by losing to Adamson. La Salle started its season with a loss to FEU. After four games, only one place separates the bitter arch rivals on the standings. Ateneo with a four-game winning run while for La Salle, it is an up and down season so far.

If we will look at it, Ateneo’s strength still lies on their perimeter game. While for La Salle, Ben Mbala is not there anymore but the main point of attack on offense still comes from inside the paint courtesy of Balti and Santi. But the front court duo of the Green Archers will be challenged since Angelo Kouame will be there to patrol the paint for the Blue Eagles.

If the Green Archers want to win tomorrow, discipline will be the key. Ateneo is a very good team moving the basketball so defensive rotations, assignments, and help side defense will be important. Ateneo thrives on their drive and drop and drive and kick plays so it is valuable to stay in front of an Ateneo player on defense and quickly rotate to cover anyone to prevent any open shot from the outside.

I also want to see some on and off the ball pressure on the Ateneo guards particularly Matt Nieto and Anton Asistio. Asistio is Ateneo’s number one gunner from deep shooting 13/24 threes in five games this season. Matt Nieto, on the other hand, leads Ateneo in assists with 2.4 assists per game.

One battle area to be fought on Saturday is the wing position. I am somewhat expecting Mark Dyke to be assigned on Thirdy Ravena along with Joaqui Manuel, and Miggy Corteza. Joaqui and Miggy will be having their hands full against the athletic Ravena, who is leading Ateneo in scoring this season. Dyke, being the veteran that he is, may get the bulk of the minutes guarding Ravena.

On the front court, Balti, Santi, and Brandon will be taking turns on manning Angelo Kouame. Kouame is Ateneo’s leading rebounder at 12.4 rebounds per game. His length and athleticism has posed problems to the opposing teams this season especially on the rebounding department. Initially, I think Balti and Brandon will be tasked to guard and box out Angelo with Santi becoming the next option should Balti and Brandon get into foul trouble.

On offense, I still hope that Balti and Santi, and even Brandon will have a good game offensively hoping to get Kouame into foul trouble. There are also times that Ateneo loves to bring in a stretch four in Navarro and Verano, I hope we can take advantage on match ups on the power forward position via Santi and Mark Dyke.

It will be important for Aljun and Andrei to get their games going. Encho, in spite being a rookie has no choice but get into the offensive flow as well. Being an athletic guard who loves to crash the boards, it is important for La Salle’s other players to get inside the paint and grab those caroms for transition basket opportunities.

On the Green Archers’ past games, Encho has gotten into the offensive scheme of things and I would love to see what he can bring into this high-pressured game where every performer that can help lead the green and white to a victory has always transformed into a cult leader of some sorts and become well-beloved to the DLSU fans and supporters. His offense will help relieve offensive pressure on Aljun, Andrei, and Jollo.

La Salle’s offense will be tested as Ateneo’s the number one team in the league right now defensively allowing their opponents to only score only 62.8 points per game, allowing 16.4 points of those from the perimeter. Having said that, I hope the Green Archers will utilize the mid-range game to produce offensively or create situations on attacking the paint for higher percentage baskets.

One key on a rivalry game like this is not to get too emotional and be as mentally focused as you can be. There’s no time to relax for both teams, more importantly, for the Green Archers as no doubt we are the underdogs on this contest. Pressure is also with Ateneo as they are the defending champions of the tournament.

Ateneo’s confidence is high because of their four-game winning streak while La Salle’s confidence will come from destroying their former head coach last Wednesday and playing a superb game on both ends of the floor.

I have been hearing too much that this will be a lopsided contest favoring the Ateneans because of so many factors in Taft Avenue. But what I can say is this: In the span of time watching these two schools duke it out in the UAAP, line ups and match ups entirely do not matter that much. It all boils down to the intangibles: Who wants to dive and get the ball that loose ball more? Who wants to get hit and get hurt while boxing out to get that rebound? Who wants to sprint an extra inch just to play honest defense?

To be honest, statistical-wise, looking at the numbers after five games, it’s difficult to separate these two teams. What does this mean? It only means that the game on Saturday can possibly boil down to mental toughness, hustle, and effort. It is all about who wants it more once the players wake up on Saturday morning.

See you all in the arena on Saturday. Green and white all the way. Animo La Salle!