Tomorrow will mark the fifth Ateneo-La Salle UAAP men’s basketball finals match-up for these two bitter rivals. After four UAAP men’s basketball finals match-ups, the men from Loyola hold a 3-1 advantage, winning in 1988, 2002, and 2008 (which started their run of five straight UAAP men’s basketball titles). The Green Archers meanwhile won back in 2001 to claim their fourth straight UAAP men’s basketball championship.
So personally, this finals series is all about redemption. One, I do not want to fall 4-1 all-time in finals series match-up against your bitter rivals. It means that when the stakes get higher, we do not have the mental fortitude to beat them. You might say that personnel can come into play on those four previous finals series match-ups but for me, the bottom line is that we lost three times on the big dance against these guys so it is still not a good feeling.
Second, that 2nd round loss still stings to me and personally, I want a payback. I felt that win helped Ateneo gain that much of a confidence and belief that they can go a long way this season so I am hoping that this finals series will go the green way to help cut the finals series match-up deficit to 3-2 and of course, bring a fitting end on this calendar year for the green and white faithful after bagging the FilOil tournament title unscathed.
I still believe that nerves will come into play on this series so it will be important to prepare mentally as much as the game plan preparation is concerned. Both coaches are very good (Coach Aldin and Coach Tab) and for sure every scenario has been mapped out already but it will always be the in-game execution that will be the difference maker on this series. Execution of strategies on both ends of the floor will be the deciding factor for me on this finals series and a lot of it will be mental more than physical.
Both teams play a system that best suits their personnel I think and it is now up to the players to execute on how to stop each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Ateneo loves to spread the floor and use extensively the drive and kick and drive and drop schemes. I believe somehow FEU had the antidote to it by playing match-up zone since it limits dribble drive penetrations and forces you to play more off-the-ball player movement which includes passing and ball movement rather than on the ball movement.
Ateneo is a team that loves to shoot from deep and it will be big if they will not be able to hit that much from the trifecta region. Right now, I can say that it will be difficult to eliminate it from their arsenal but if you can minimize the production from deep for Ateneo, it will be big for the Green Archers on tomorrow’s game. Of course, it will be much, much better if La Salle will be able to convert on transition points just in case Ateneo will miss a lot from the perimeter on tomorrow’s game.
For the Green Archers’ cause, I think they will win the championship because of their defensive effort more than the offense. If they will keep the defensive pressure on a high level, whether it be performing pressure defense or playing half-court defense, and then add to that converting quick, transition points then it will be a ball game in the favor of the green and white. I am giving more premium on getting stops and then scoring on the break than memorizing a ton of plays on offense.
I am going to remind once again the turnover story for the Green Archers. Regardless of the opponent, if you do not take care of the basketball and do not get back quickly on defense, you will definitely pay for it and I think this is also one area where the Blue Eagles can capitalize on this series. With the two gritty wins against FEU on the elimination round, I think the Green Archers have shown that they can slow it down a bit rather than playing look like out of control to take care of the basketball more and minimize giving transition baskets to Ateneo on this series.
In as much as I do not want to talk about it as a factor on this series, I strongly think that the referees’ behavior on how much physicality they will allow will be a big factor on both teams. I still think on that 2nd round loss, the Green Archers were caught off-guard with Ateneo’s physicality so I am expecting that on this finals series, the Green Archers will be more prepared for it and will match Ateneo’s energy. I am also hoping that the referees will be more consistent on the level of physicality allowed, especially on contacts made to Big Ben Mbala.
It will be also important for the other players to step up. Not just for the Green Archers but also for the Blue Eagles. For the green and white squad, I am hoping that everyone will contribute not just on scoring but on the other things like rebounds, assists, steals, blocked shots to mention some. I believe that if the Green Archers will play more cohesive as a unit, they will be very, very difficult to stop especially on the defensive end. I would love to watch getting one stop after another and seeing one lay-up after another.
It is also a well-known fact that an Ateneo-La Salle game brings out the best on all players from both sides. It is a stage where legends and heroes are made for both institutions. It is where Carlo Sharma made a name for himself by stopping Enrico Villanueva back in 2001. Who would have thought that Willie Wilson, not a known scorer back then, will lead the Green Archers to a Game 3 fight back and the victory to seal that 4th straight title? For sure, there will be surprise packages from both teams so it will be another reason that will make this title series exciting.
It will not be an easy finals series for both teams. As we have seen on the elimination round, Ateneo is more than capable of beating the Green Archers so it will be important for the green and white squad to stay focused and play at the highest level if we want the best Christmas present every La Sallian wants to have right now. The respect should be there but more than anything, the confidence should be evident at the tip-off.
To end this, just remember that an Ateneo-La Salle game is not for the faint of heart. Those who are brave and confident will be the ones who will survive in the end so sit back, relax, cheer our hearts out and by next week, let’s all hope and pray that it will be an early Christmas in Taft Avenue. See you all in the games.