We've seen so much drama already in this year's UAAP hoops wars but the action is still heating up. Expect spectacular semis match-ups when four-year champs Ateneo Blue Eagles face arch rivals La Salle Green Archers, and surprise No. 2 squad UST Growling Tigers meet season favorite NU Bulldogs. It's going to be a dogfight in both games.
Kiefer Ravena and the Blue Eagles will face a resurgent La Salle side. (NPPA Images)
ATENEO VERSUS LA SALLE
It's a rare treat to have the country's much talked about sports rivalry take center stage again, this time for a championship berth. While the Blue Eagles have been the dominant team in the last four years, the Green Archers are peaking at the right time. We can expect a fierce battle between fierce rivals when these two giants collide.
1. College basketball at its best
Ateneo versus La Salle will be your ideal college basketball game where emotions will be very high. The crowd will definitely be involved. But aside from the passion, we will be treated to a highly systematic game as both teams have excellent basketball programs. Other than the highlight plays of the stars that will be seeing action for both schools, take notice of the tactics and execution of game plans in this match. It will be interesting to watch the defensive strategies of both teams. Both Ateneo and La Salle take pride in their defense, especially in the half-court sets. But it's also interesting to see the new offensive strategies that Norman Black and Gee Abanilla will unveil in the game. Scouting will play a major part. But so will the surprise packages.
2. Kiefer versus Jeron
Two of the most exciting cagers today will once again be leading their teams in offense. Sophomore player Kiefer Ravena will once again play a major role this year, not just in piling up the points but also in distributing the ball. Expect Kiefer to take the big shots when it's winning time. But Jeron Teng is determined to rain on Kiefer's parade as the rookie from Xavier is starting to become DLSU's main scoring weapon. It will be another showcase of talent and wits when Jeron and Kiefer step on the Ateneo-La Salle floor on Saturday.
3. Slaughter-Salva versus Torres-Van Opstal
Not to be outdone are the behemoths of the game. Greg Slaughter will again be the center of attraction in this game, and the biggest thorn on the Archers' side. Expect the Eagles' offense to revolve around the 6'11" Fil-Am slotman from Cebu. Greg will force his will in this game and try to end his UAAP career on a winning note. Nico Salva will be another crucial player. Also serving his last year with the Blue Eagles, Salva's perimeter game can be the difference against La Salle. Slaughter is so much more difficult to defend because of Salva. It will be critical for the Archers how Van Opstal will contain Greg. If he can limit Slaughter, DLSU will have a chance. Offensively, Norbert Torres will need to step up big time. The Green Archers must have a balanced inside and outside scoring to upset the Eagles.
4. Battle of great coaching minds
Norman Black is undoubtedly the best coach in college basketball today. He will move heaven and earth to take home another title before moving on to the pros. But Gee Abanilla has long waited for this chance to lead his alma mater to the Promised Land. It will be a battle of wits as both squads boast of quality basketball programs. Player movement will be important as well as defensive assignments. And both tacticians are masters of their craft.
5. Present versus Future?
La Salle is looking like a dominant team in the UAAP in years to come with a balanced pool of guards, shooters and big men. But the Archers are raring to take the throne now from their bitter rivals. As the Blue Eagles have dominated the league in the last four seasons, La Salle is eager to establish a new dynasty.
But perhaps the Blue Eagles are not ready to give up the empire just yet. Ateneo should survive in Game 1 but it sure won't be a walk in the park.
UST VERSUS NU
Another interesting match-up is NU versus UST. Both teams have had amazing games this season. The Growling Tigers have been the biggest surprise, even upending Ateneo in the first round and almost repeating in the second. The Bulldogs, on the other hand, were heavy favorites at the start of the season but found themselves almost booted out of the semis race. Now they are determined to bounce back strong.
1. Underdogs are twice to beat
UST finished the elms at second spot and enjoys a twice to beat edge over NU. But the Bulldogs are considered by many to be the stronger team. Top MVP contender Bobby Rey Parks is expected to lead NU again in the playoffs. UST has a solid starting unit but lacks bench depth. But one good game is all the Tigers need to get another crack at the title.
2. Mastery or Redemption?
UST has defeated NU twice already this year in as many games. But inspired by its recent knockout win versus FEU, NU is gaining momentum that it can use to barge into the finals. Expect the coach Eric Altamirano to come up with adjustments against the Tigers. It should be a very different game when the Tigers and Bulldogs meet for a third time.
3. Abdul versus Mbe
The battle of the African giants will be sensational. Both Karim Abdul and Emmanuel Mbe are powerhouse centers that wreak havoc on the court. It's going to be a physical encounter between these two and nobody will want to miss that.
4. Parks versus Tigers
Parks needs to bring his MVP numbers when NU challenges its former tormentors. While the Bulldogs have other reliable players, Parks will still need to cough up his 21.4 points per game, and even aim to bring more. The Tigers will be charging with all their might, especially Jeric Teng, Abdul, and Aljon Mariano. This will be an explosive game in terms of firepower. UST versus NU might be the more exciting match up.
5. Who's got the bigger heart?
The team with the bigger heart will make it to the finals. UST has shown its huge heart throughout the season. And the Tigers are not about to slow down now. They can smell blood and a chance to relive their old UAAP glory. But the Bulldogs have awakened from a long sleep and are just as determined to steal the limelight.
Expect NU to force a Game 2. It will be anybody's ballgame in the knockout encounter.
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.