DEFENDING champion Ateneo and La Salle, two bitter rivals which has contrasting fortunes this season, clash today in the UAAP men’s basketball tournament before an expected huge crowd at the Mall of Asia Arena.
The Blue Eagles have displayed championship form after a shock opening day loss, dismantling opponents one after another by ease as of late to sit in second place with a 4-1.
In a transition mode after the abrupt departure of coach Aldin Ayo and two-time MVP Ben Mbala, the Green Archers have struggled with key players Taane Samuel and Kib Montalbo hit with injuries.
Still, expect fireworks when the Eagles and the Archers cross paths for the first time this season at 4 p.m.
“For sure, it's going to be a highly-emotional game,” said Ateneo assistant coach Sandy Arespcochaga.
“Of course, it's an Ateneo-La Salle game. So it's gonna be fun. It's gonna be exciting. There's gonna a lot of energy from both teams.”
Notwithstanding their opponent's not-so-satisfactory 3-2 slate, Arespacochaga knows that the Eagles have their mindset on what the Archers could offer in this rivalry game.
“We got to be ready. We got to prepare well, just like any other game. But at the same time, we cannot pretend that it is just an ordinary game. We also have to got to manage our emotions. Not too high. Not too low. Because for sure, our opponents will come out aggressive,” said Arespacochaga.
Louie Gonzalez, La Salle's new coach, needs no introduction to the long-standing rivalry, having handled the team before when Ayo was suspended in their first round showdown with Ateneo two years ago.
He knows the magnitude of this game, where both the Eagles and the Archers elevate their performance a notcher higher everytime both teams meet.
"If you are playing for La Salle and if you are going up against Ateneo, alam mo na kung anong dapat mong gawin. Wala na kaming sabihin kung ano mang motivation. Hindi na pang kailangan i-motivate sila. They know na that's one of their responsibilities," said Gonzalez.
“Nakita ko yung mga margins nila in the last three games. I know since the start of the tournament, I know that they are the team to beat. Sa amin, pareho lang, we will take it one game at a time. Isipin mo, Ateneo, may pressure. Isipin mo ibang school, may pressure rin," he added.
Now down with 11 men with Samuel and Montalbo sidelined until at least late in the elimination round, Gonzalez will continue to dig deep from what he has right now and find the right rotation to hurdle.
University of the East and University of Santo Tomas, currently tied with National University at the bottom of the standings at 1-4, collide in the 12 noon matinee.