MANILA, Philippines - Defending champion Ateneo and Far Eastern University clash for the first time since their one-sided finals duel last year today in the 75th UAAP basketball tournament at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum.
The Blue Eagles and the Tamaraws, locked in a three-way tie for the lead with idle University of Santo Tomas, clash at 4:30 p.m. as they try to shake off rust following a two-week layoff caused by the widespread flooding in Metro Manila.
In the first game, National University and La Salle collide at 12 noon with the winner to secure the fourth spot at the end of the league's first round hostilities.
Tickets for both games will be sold separately, a practice being done in doubleheaders featuring an Ateneo-La Salle contest. UAAP officials announced before the season its plans to implement such practice in other marquee matches.
Ateneo is seeking its seventh consecutive victory over FEU dating back to their 2010 finals meeting. In the 2011 edition of their title duel, the Eagles swept both games by double-digit margins.
"We will try to slow down their wingmen because majority of FEU's points are coming from them. We also have to contain their big men," said coach Norman Black, who won his 100th career UAAP game with a 68-51 rout of University of the East on Aug. 4.
The Eagles, who will be led by Greg Slaughter, Kiefer Ravena and Nico Salva, took advantage of the long break when it faced the PBA-flavored Smart Gilas Pilipinas team in an exhibition game at the Ateneo campus. The Jones Cup-bound Gilas team won, 96-80.
On the other hand, FEU was hit hard by the floods. Luckily, its basketball court is located on the second floor of the school's gymnasium, thus enabling them to stage uninterrupted practices.
The Tams had to survive another down-the-wire finish on Aug. 5 when they sneaked past University of the Philippines, 73-70. A concerned coach Bert Flores is aching for sharper horns this time, especially facing a team whom they have never beaten in the last two years.
"Magiging motivation namin yung gawin lahat para manalo kami sa kanila after two years," Flores said. "Pero dapat mag-improve pa kami dahil napansin ko medyo pababa laro namin nung mga huling laro."
Guard Terrence Romeo, who has become the team's top scorer, will try to keep his shooting form against the tenacious Ateneo defense with backcourt mates RR Garcia and Cris Tolomia providing support.
The FEU frontline led by American center Anthony Hargrove, bulky Arvie Bringas and hardworking Ray Mark Belo is out to match their Ateneo counterparts in Slaughter, JP Erram and Justin Chua.