Ateneo, UP begin Finals clash

Defending three-time champion Ateneo and a revved up University of the Philippines start off their best-of-three affair in the UAAP Season 84 men’s basketball finals Sunday, May 8 at the Mall of Asia Arena.

Carl Tamayo of University of the Philippines soars for the basket against Ateneo’s Ange Kouame. The two will serve as key cogs for their respective teams when they meet in Game 1 of the UAAP Season 84 men’s basketball Finals at the Mall of Asia Arena Sunday, May 8. (UAAP Media Bureau)

Tipoff is set at 4 p.m. with the Blue Eagles entering the last stage of their title-retention bid and the Fighting Maroons fresh from overcoming a huge hurdle brought by the De La Salle Green Archers in their Final Four showdown two nights ago.

Ateneo also has a score to settle with UP after its 39-game winning streak dating back to 2018 was thwarted by the maroon-clad cagers from Diliman with an 84-83 thriller on Labor Day.

But the Blue Eagles, in their fifth straight UAAP Finals appearance, are well-rested after needing short work of the Far Eastern University Tamaraws in the other Final Four pairing, 85-72, last May 4.

UP, meanwhile, needed a rubber match to fend off De La Salle before getting the last laugh after Carl Tamayo led the heroics down the stretch for a hard-earned 78-74.

Hard work paid off for the Maroons but mentor Goldwin Monteverde, who joined the ranks of Ateneo’s Tab Baldwin and former La Salle tactician Aldin Ayo to reach the UAAP Finals as first-year head coaches, is going back to the drawing board as early as possible to prepare for three-peat champion Ateneo.

“Whatever happens the other day, tapos na ‘yon. Right now, we just have to, tignan namin ulit ‘yong first game namin today (against La Salle),” said Monteverde. “Kumbaga review what to work on kasi never naman nawala sa amin ‘yon as a team. Every game na nilalaro namin, we still find ‘yong improvement para sa team namin.

“Next, we’re gonna study Ateneo, be ready for them for the Finals,” added the multi-titled juniors’ champion coach.

A sea of crowd, most probably clad not only in blue and maroon but also in pink, is expected to fill the Pasay City venue as the two universities from Katipunan meet for the first time since the Season 81 Finals back in 2018.

The Blue Eagles had the likes of Thirdy Ravena, brothers Mike and Matt Nieto, and Ange Kouame while the Maroons paraded Jun Manzo, Juan Gomez de Liano, Paul Desiderio, and Bright Akhuetie.

This time though, it will be up to the next generation as Kouame remained as Ateneo’s centerpiece with the help of Dave Ildefonso, SJ Belangel, BJ Andrade, and team captain Gian Mamuyac, among others.

UP would likely rely on star rookie Tamayo, the frontrunner for the Rookie of the Year honors, as well as do-it-all forward Zavier Lucero. Big man Malick Diouf proved enough contributions on both ends of the floor while court general JD Cagulangan would be in charge of playmaking and shot calls for the Maroons.

The veteran presence of Ricci Rivero and CJ Cansino, who both had experience playing in the UAAP Finals for La Salle and University of Santo Tomas, is a plus factor for UP.

But it is still unsure if Cansino is ready to suit up due to his bone bruising and minimal swelling on his knee he had suffered against Ateneo last week.

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