For the second straight season, the DLSU Green Archers will face off versus the ADMU Blue Eagles in the UAAP Finals. Season 80’s edition of the rivalry begins today, 4 pm, at the Mall of Asia Arena. A win for the Lasallians will give them an early advantage in the best-of-three series while a loss will push them to the brink of elimination.
The defending champions finished the elimination round with 12 wins and two loses as they clinched the second seed in the Final Four. The Green-and-White quickly booked a ticket to the Finals with a win against the AdU Soaring Falcons while the Blue Eagles dispatched the resilient FEU Tamaraws in two games after finishing as the top seed with a 13-1 record.
Road to the finals
The Green Archers have had sustained momentum ever since the beginning of the second round. On the other side, ADMU was almost eliminated by the Tamaraws despite being consistent throughout the season as the team from Morayta rallied to extend the semifinals to a do-or-die match. However, the Katipunan-based squad remained composed to end FEU’s hopes of completing the upset.
The Lasallians swept the entire second round of the eliminations after dropping two games, against UP and ADMU, in the first. La Salle also denied the Blue Eagles’ aspirations of having an automatic spot in the Finals and a rare 14-0 feat after DLSU made a late run in the fourth period to take the win straight from Ateneo’s hands.
After spoiling ADMU’s almost perfect season, La Salle had to deal with the third-seeded AdU Soaring Falcons. Although the defending champions had the adrenaline to secure a Finals berth, the Falcons had them by their talons. Adamson led La Salle by as much as 15 points in the third quarter. However, the Green-and-White unified and outplayed AdU to take the win in the fourth.
Meanwhile, the Blue Eagles had rough encounters in their recent games. The Blue-and-White lost two consecutive crucial matches, against La Salle and FEU, respectively, which delayed their trip to the big stage.
Keys to winning
Being the two most efficient teams in the league, along with their historic rivalry, it is hard to predict how the Finals will play out. Both teams have comparable grit and intensity. Moreover, each has won one game apiece over the other. In the end, it all goes down to who wants it more.
The Green Archers will need to assert themselves against an all-out ADMU squad. Two-time MVP Ben Mbala will have to maintain dominance inside the paint despite the smothering defense of Chibueze Ikeh and Isaac Go. The Cameroonian averaged 26 points and 13.1 rebounds per outing throughout the season. More so, contributions from the bench will also be crucial as La Salle will have to fend off ADMU as a whole unit.
Lastly, defense will be the most significant matter in fighting a well-oiled offensive team. The Lasallians must commit to cutting off passing lanes and closing out on shooters. La Salle needs to disrupt Ateneo’s well-orchestrated plays if it wishes to attain a back-to-back championship.
Despite missing the potential game-winner in their second round match-up against the defending champions, ADMU’s Go redeemed himself and repaid the trust of his coaches and teammates as he was able to save the Blue Eagles’ season with a three-pointer that sent the do-or-die game against FEU into overtime. He also hit the game’s clinching shot with a memorable basket from the floor. The Blue Eagles will again rely on the big man in the Finals for his contributions on both ends of the floor.
Thirdy Ravena, who finished second in the MVP standings, has been playing superb basketball for the Blue Eagles the entire season as he is able to score for himself and set-up teammates for scoring opportunities, but the key factor in the Finals rematch against the Lasallians will be Matt Nieto. The third year point guard has been a revelation for the Katipunan-based squad this season and if he can outwit both Kib Montalbo and Aljun Melecio, ADMU’s five year title drought will have a big chance of coming to an end.
Prior to this year’s Finals match-up, both teams have met five times on the big stage with La Salle winning twice in 2001 and 2016 while ADMU claimed the 1988, 2002, and 2008 titles. Only the 2001 and 2002 series went the distance as both La Salle and ADMU needed a winner-takes-all match to clinch their respective titles.
The Blue Eagles’ five-peat that started in 2008 against La Salle will hopefully serve as an inspiration for the current set of Green Archers as they try to build their own dynasty under head coach Aldin Ayo.