It all boils down to the last game of eliminations. With their backs against the wall, the defending champions need to pull off an upset against the undented ADMU Blue Eagles to prevent a step-ladder format in the Final Four to deny a huge advantage for Ateneo. Currently holding a six-game winning streak, the Green Archers will aim to continue their momentum as they play their most crucial game yet.
In what was arguably the best game of the season thus far, the first match-up between these two teams gusted everyone in the Mall of Asia Arena. La Salle was clinging to a victory until a last-second defensive play from Matt Nieto shifted the momentum and the nifty point guard’s free throws eventually proved to be the determinant of the game.
Anton Asistio caught fire early on as ADMU built a reasonable lead over La Salle. The streaky shooter converted four out of eight attempts from behind the arc in the first half. The DLSU bench contributed a bulk of the scoring while reigning MVP Ben Mbala was restricted to a sub-par performance.
Although DLSU played catch-up throughout the match, the team’s collective effort resulted in a comeback as the Lasallians managed to reduce the deficit to a single point by the fourth period. However, despite their tireless efforts, the Blue Eagles got the break they needed to close out the Lasallians.
Keys to victory
ADMU has been the UAAP’s best team this year. With their team’s depth and effective ball movement, the team from Katipunan has been unstoppable throughout the season. In their bid to attain an unscathed record, consistency will be the only vital factor for their success which they have had all season long.
Meanwhile, the reigning UAAP champions will have to prove their worth through defense and exceptional contributions from the whole team. Prioritizing pressure on defense and being aggressive on both ends of the floor will be a must against an efficient, all-around team.
Guards Aljun Melecio and Andrei Caracut need to be effective in ball handling to limit their turnovers. Moreover, they will have to be reliable in making plays to control the pace and keep up with ADMU. Interesting match-ups inside the paint between Chibueze Ikeh and Mbala as well as a face-off between athletic talents Thirdy Ravena and Ricci Rivero will be a match-up to look out for.
Players who have had a rough season, such as Kib Montalbo and Melecio, will also need to step-up and contribute in scoring as defense will be mainly focused on Mbala. Locating spot-up shooters in three-point territory will also be beneficial for the Green-and-White.
Lastly, the Lasallians should partake in having a strong start against the Blue Eagles. Defense will always be their primary tool. Simple facets such as forcing bad shot attempts and closing out on shooters will be a significant factor of the game.
The Ateneo-La Salle rivalry never fails to give fans a nail-biting experience and will more often than not be an absolute classic. It will be a match-up between two teams with contrasting styles of play; La Salle, playing with a fast pace and their menacing “Mayhem” defense, and ADMU orchestrating a fluid offense and making fundamental plays.
La Salle will hope to return the favor and refute an unbeaten run by the Blue Eagles, which its rivals from Katipunan did last season, wherein they ended the Green Archers’ Season 79 unbeaten streak. The most intense rivalry of the UAAP will commence once again tomorrow at 4 pm at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.