Eagles, Scorpions kick off D-League duel

CIGNAL-Ateneo may have been tipped to win the PBA D-League crown, but don’t just count Centro Escolar University out.

“They’re in the Finals for a reason. They’ve been playing undermanned and that’s what makes them dangerous,” said Blue Eagles assistant coach Sandy Arespacochaga of the hard-fighting Scorpions.

Game 1 of the best-of-five Finals series is set at 4 p.m. today at the Filoil Flying V Centre.

Cignal-Ateneo will enter the championship round well-rested after sweeping City of Valencia Bukidnon-SSC-R last week in the semifinals.

Meanwhile, the eight-man Scorpions have been running on adrenaline since game-fixing allegations hit the team hard.

Motivated as ever, CEU was able to hurdle St. Clare-Virtual Reality in three hard-fought games, capped by last Tuesday’s 89-72 win.

“For me, this team is already a champion. With all the adversities na nangyari, we still made it,” said Scorpions.

In terms of manpower, the Eagles are the overwhelming favorites in the series.

Ivorian center Ange Kouame is expected to be tested by CEU’s Senegalese slotman Malick Diouf, but Cignal-Ateneo has a lot of weapons on its arsenal with top dogs Thirdy Ravena, Isaac Go, and brothers Matt and Mike Nieto to draw first blood.

The Scorpions hope to give the Eagles a run for their money in both team’s first meeting this season.

“We know we’re gonna be the underdog against Ateneo. We’re facing the no. 1 college team in the land. But outside of the UAAP and the NCAA, we believe that we’re also one of the best basketball programs in the land ngayon,” said Pumaren, who took over CEU’s program last year.

Rich Guinitaran, Dave Bernabe and Franz Diaz, who played huge roles in the series-clinching win against the Saints, need to elevate their game further for the Scorpions to be competitive in the biggest stage.