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With La Salle heavily favored, Ateneo needs a miracle

By Al S. Mendoza

 

HUMBLY, my prediction here the last time out proved true.

That Ateneo and La Salle would clash anew for the UAAP (University Athletic Association of the Philippines) Men’s Basketball crown.

Today, they meet in the deciding Game 3 for all the marbles so to speak, but that’s going ahead of the story.

I based my forecast on the trend of the eliminations among the eight teams.

With one game left in the two-round qualifying to select the Final 4 semifinal cast, Ateneo was waving a 13-0, win-loss record.

Ateneo’s 14th and last game was against La Salle, its archrival for the longest time.

Always, each time they met—whether in the NCAA or UAAP now—the arena was packed to the rafters.

It is scalpers’ bonanza when they clash—with tickets costing almost five times each from the ticket’s original price.

In the regular season-ending game between Ateneo and La Salle, the Green Archers prevailed, snapping the Blue Eagles’ 13-game winning streak.

A 14-0 sweep of the two-round eliminations would have given Ateneo an outright Finals berth.

Thus, as a result of that Ateneo loss, the Eagles had to go through a Final Four wringer against Far Eastern University.

And Ateneo got a scare when FEU won Game One.

In the deciding Game Two, Ateneo stared ouster in the face as FEU led by three points with mere ticks remaining.

But Isaac Go buried an unlikely triple with 8.5 ticks left to tie the game.

FEU bungled the winning play when Arvin Tolentino fumbled, sending the game to overtime in which Ateneo would eventually prevail to advance to the Finals.

La Salle, also enjoying a twice-to-beat bonus like Ateneo, advanced to the Finals first as it defeated Adamson in Game One of their own semifinal series.

In Game One of their title playoffs, Ateneo won as it successfully shackled Ben Mbala, La Salle’s 6-foot-7 Cameroonian import.

Using to the hilt a double-team defense on Mbala, the reigning MVP was limited to a mere eight points—a far cry from his 28 points when La Salle defeated Ateneo in Game 14 ending the regular season.

Ateneo appeared in great shape of wrapping up the crown on Wednesday when it built an imposing 21-point, 49-28 lead in Game Two.

But horror of horrors, Ateneo collapsed like an empty sack against La Salle’s counterattack that saw the Archers unload a 40-10 blast for a 68-59 bubble going to the fourth quarter.

Ateneo never recovered, putting their huge 32-point first quarter output to naught after scoring only 8 points in the third quarter against La Salle’s decisive 26 points.

Mbala has regained his old form, firing 20 points and grabbing 16 rebounds in powering La Salle to an incredible come-from-behind 92-83 victory to tie the series at 1-1.

Sadly, with that Game Two meltdown, Ateneo could now be in a soul-searching mode—its crown-seeking fitness now thrown into serious doubt.

With momentum massively back on its side, La Salle is favored to win today.

That is embellished by the frightening fact that La Salle has a spotless 9-0 mark this year at Smart Araneta Coliseum, the venue of today’s final battle.

Thus, only a miracle now can save Ateneo.

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Here’s a glass to Rachel Arenas, the charming chair of the MTRCB (Movie and Television Rating and Classification Board), for successfully spearheading on Dec. 2the 5th MTRCB Family & Child Summit with the theme, “Sakay na Pamilyang Pinoy. Byaheng Media, Byaheng MTRC: Upholding and Passing on Filipino Tradition and Values in Media for Children.”  Cheers, Madame Chair!

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