Ateneo-La Salle collision inevitable?
By Al S. Mendoza
TODAY pits Ateneo against Far Eastern University in the Final 4 of the UAAP (University Athletic Association of the Philippines) Men’s Basketball Tournament.
A win by the Blue Eagles will send Ateneo to the best-of-three title series against either La Salle or Adamson.
But an FEU victory will force a rubber match between the Eagles and the Tamaraws, with the winner advancing to the race-to-two Finals.
Ateneo needs only one win against FEU because the Eagles topped the two-round, eight-school eliminations.
But FEU, owing to its fourth-place finish, must prevail twice over Ateneo to make it to the best-of-three championship showdown.
Similarly, if La Salle beat Adamson yesterday (Nov. 18), the Green Archers will advance outright to the Finals.
But if Adamson, for placing third in the eliminations, salvaged a win yesterday, it must defeat No. 2 La Salle again to capture a titular appearance that had looked impossible to achieve for the Falcons at the start of the season.
Of the eight UAAP teams—eliminated were National University, University of the Philippines, University of the East and University of Sto. Tomas—the top seed is La Salle.
That’s because the Archers are the defending champions and own Ben Mbala, the Cameroonian import consistently unleashing a dominant game that had earned him back-to-back MVP plums from 2016.
Mbala is like the LeBron James of Cleveland, if not the Stephen Curry of Golden State.
Ateneo had appeared invincible, though, when it sped to a 13-0, win-loss record.
But in the Eagles’ 14th and final elimination game, they bowed to the Archers in a heart-stopping match that had all the trappings of a championship encounter.
The loss denied Ateneo a sweet sweep of 14-0 that could have sent the Eagles to the Finals outright.
La Salle’s 79-76 victory was practically the result of Mbala’s pulsating performance that saw him fire 28 points, grab 19 rebounds and block 6 shots.
His heroics in that game simply put Ateneo’s championship dreams in jeopardy, virtually installing the Archers the heavy favorites to retain their crown should they face the Eagles in the Finals.
Pundits insist that upsets by FEU over Ateneo and Adamson over La Salle are mere illusions.
This early, the hard court talk is the inevitable title collision between La Salle and Ateneo.
And when it finally happens, there is but one question foremost in Ateneo’s mind: How to derail La Salle’s back-to-back title triumphs?
The answer? Stop Mbala and you stop La Salle.
Easier said than done.