The DLSU Green Archers will conclude their elimination round schedule in the Filoil Flying V Preseason Cup with a match against archrivals, the ADMU Blue Eagles tomorrow, 4:30 pm, at the Filoil Flying V Center in San Juan.
A victory for the Lasallians will give them a record of eight wins and one loss while a triumph for the Ateneans will push their winning streak to nine games and clinch the first seed in Group A.
The last time both teams met on the basketball court was in Game 3 of the UAAP Season 80 Finals wherein Isaac Go drilled a clutch three-pointer off an assist by Thirdy Ravena to clinch the Blue Eagles’ first UAAP championship since 2012.
It was a gritty performance by the Green Archers as they crawled their way back into the game but eventually fell short in the end. Ben Mbala led the Green-and-White with 19 points while Aljun Melecio added 16 points in a losing effort.
Since its heartbreaking loss against the Blue Eagles last December, the Green-and-White has seen few of its personnel depart, including head coach Aldin Ayo. Mbala left the team for a new challenge, Abu Tratter has graduated, while Prince Rivero, Brent Paraiso, and Ricci Rivero each went on a different path after facing off-court issues.
Replacing Ayo is Louie Gonzales, who has steadied the ship by imposing his own style of coaching in the team and recruiting a handful of talented players to play for the Green-and-White, including former Blue Eaglet Joaqui Manuel.
Gonzales also has the luxury to unleash a twin-tower combination as newcomers Taane Samuel and Brandon Bates will look to impress in their first game against the Katipunan-based squad. The former, who has represented New Zealand in the FIBA Under-19 World Championships, presents ADMU with a lot of defensive problems with his unique inside-outside game. The 6-foot-8 center can dominate the paint with his soft touch or step out and convert a three-pointer from long range.
The Blue Eagles, meanwhile, only lost Vince Tolentino and Chibueze Ikeh due to graduation, with newcomers Patrick Maagdenberg and Angelo Kouame set as direct replacements. Tab Baldwin was also able to recruit former San Beda University Red Lion William Navarro and receive homegrown talents in SJ Belangel and Jason Credo from the Blue Eaglets program.
Keys to winning
La Salle will continue to miss the services of Kib Montalbo as he has yet to recover from his recent injury. The team captain had surgery last month to remove bone spurs in his right ankle but Melecio, Andrei Caracut, and Jollo Go have stepped-up their game to compensate for Montalbo’s absence. The trio’s individual brilliance will be needed to counter the deep backcourt rotation of Baldwin.
Melecio has been spectacular all tournament long as he averaged 14.7 points while shooting 39 percent from three-point territory in his first six games. The fiery point guard also displayed his improved playmaking skills as he averaged 4.7 assists during that span. Caracut, meanwhile, exploded for 20 points in their loss against San Beda last week.
DLSU’s frontcourt will also be vital in taking down the Katipunan-based squad as they clearly have the height advantage over their opponents. Justine Baltazar and Santi Santillan will most likely start for Gonzales again, with Samuel and Bates coming off the bench. The versatility of Santillan is crucial since he can slide to the small forward position and allow Gonzales to deploy a towering line-up that can dominate the paint.
In order for the Blue Eagles to continue their unblemished run in the tournament, they will have to rely on unselfish team play and the depth of their bench. The offensive arsenal of the Ateneans has been on display in their last two games as they hammered the EAC Generals with a 108-44 rout while notching a 99-55 victory over the Mapua Cardinals a few days later.
Despite being named as the Most Valuable Player in last season’s UAAP Finals, Ravena has an immense supporting cast that he can rely on in any game. I. Go’s improvement has been on the rise since Baldwin took over, Jolo Mendoza can light it up from downtown, and the Nieto twins, Matt and Mike, have become steady veterans for the team.