It will be a rematch of UAAP finalists UST and Ateneo for this year's Philippine Collegiate Champions League (PCCL) championship Tuesday at the San Juan Arena.
Reigning UAAP champions Blue Eagles cruised to the championship round with an easy 66-49 win over the undermanned three-peat NCAA titlists Red Lions. The Ateneans took advantage of the absence of San Beda big men Olaide Adeogun and Art Dela Cruz, who were saddled with injuries, to break away from a tight 28-26 halftime lead. They limited the Lions to a season-low five points in the third quarter to establish a commanding 48-31 edge going into the payoff period.
The Red Lions tried to stage a rally in the fourth canto, managing to cut the deficit down to ten points at one point. But the Eagles refused to let go of the chance to win the PCCL crown again after succumbing to NCAA runner-up San Sebastian last year. They won the same title in 2010.
When the outcome was almost inevitable in the last few minutes of play, the game turned into almost a one-on-one contest between good buddies Kiefer Ravena and Baser Amer. The two long-time pals trash-talked and even banged bodies during a two-minute personal showdown. Eagle Ravena finished with eight markers, seven boards, eight assists and three steals, while Lion Amer topscored for SBC with 15 points.
The Red Lions, badly missing the services of the 6'8" Adeogun and Dela Cruz, shot a measly 28.1% from the field and were outrebounded, 39-47. Although both are considered as the best defensive college squads in the land, Ateneo proved steadier in this encounter, limiting San Beda to a season-low 49 points in 40 minutes of play.
And so the stage is set for another showdown between the Blue Eagles and the Growling Tigers. UST lost to the gritty Southwestern University Cobras, 91-93, in overtime yesterday but still entered the finals by virtue of its victories over Ateneo and San Beda last week. The Red Lions and Cobras will dispute third place honors.
Ateneo and UST had a dramatic UAAP championship series just two months ago, which the former won, 2-0. In a UNIGAMES match-up just last month, the Blue Eagles, minus graduating players Greg Slaughter, Nico Salva and Justin Chua, likewise repulsed the Tigers in another close contest, making it three straight versus the Tigers. But last week, the hungry Tigers started the PCCL semis with an emphatic 76-66 win over the Eagles. They showed a different attitude in that encounter, dominating the four-year UAAP champs from start to finish. Jeric Teng scattered 22 points, including two treys, and five rebounds while the bull-strong Karim Abdul added 15 markers, six boards and three steals. Slaughter was limited to just 11 points and three rebounds.
It will be another interesting best-of-three finale for these two protagonists in the PCCL. The match-ups will be crucial once again.
Teng and Ravena are most likely to carry the scoring cudgels for their respective squads. Both are complete offensive players, equipped with outside artillery, slashing ability and even post moves. Their performances in the series will be crucial in the final outcome.
Slaughter and Abdul renew their rivalry inside the paint. The seven-foot Blue Eagle had a double-double game against the Lions yesterday, with 11 markers and 12 caroms, on top of two blocks. But the 6'6" Cameroonian, who was given a day-off against SWU, has been steady in this tournament being the main source of strength for UST inside the shaded area. How the two hulking centers defend each other will be another crucial factor.
The other important match-up will be Salva versus UST's surprise package, Aljon Mariano. Former teammates in San Beda high, the two power forwards could be the X-factor in this series. Both are loaded with impressive post moves and accurate perimeter shots. Salva, of course, is the more experienced player who has been in all four UAAP championships with Ateneo. But Mariano has a longer range and could pose some defensive problems for the Blue Eagles.
Over at the three-spot, UST's sophomore sensation Kevin Ferrer wishes to have a taste of a collegiate title as he locks horns with veteran Eagle Ryan Buenafe. Ferrer is another complete player with the ability to drive, post-up and shoot from long distance, just like Buenafe. Both are almost the same in height but the latter is certainly more experienced.
At the point guard position, the Tigers will have a slight edge with graduating playmaker Jeric Fortuna. He has proven to be a clutch player for UST, willing to take charge in the crucial stages of the game. But Eagle Juami Tiongson is capable of coming up with big plays as well just as he did in Game 2 of the UAAP finals.
Bench depth is on the side of Ateneo, especially at the four and five spots. Chua and Frank Golla can help defensively against Abdul. Chris Sumalinog, Tonino Gonzaga and Von Pessumal can also offer significant contributions for Ateneo.
The Tigers' bench needs to step up more in this series, especially Clark Bautista. Melo Afuang has been playing bigger than his size for UST. But it's important to draw more from the likes of Louie Vigil and Paolo Pe.
UST Coach Pido Jarencio has a golden opportunity to win another title for his alma mater, following the 2006 UAAP victory in his rookie season. Interim Ateneo coach Gabby Severino, who handled the Blue Eagles in the UNIGAMES in Bacolod, will have a chance to repeat over Jarencio.
Expect another offense versus defense battle. The Tigers love to run and gun. The Eagles are excellent with stoppages.
Editor's note: The blogger's views do not represent Yahoo! Southeast Asia's position on the topic or issue being discussed in this post.
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