The De La Salle University Green Archers are looking to complete a sweep of the first round of eliminations, and the only thing standing in their way is none other than arch-rivals Ateneo de Manila University Blue Eagles.
After all the hype they received before the season started, the Archers have shown that they are for real, posting a 6-0 record. On the other hand, the Blue Eagles have exceeded plenty of expectations, as despite the loss of several key players, they’re sitting right there in second place.
These two teams met twice in the FilOil Flying V Preseason Tournament, and both times, it was a drubbing, courtesy of La Salle (98-66 in the elims, 92-77 in the Final Four). That augurs well for the team, but they’ll be entering this game with some considerable handicaps. Star forward Jeron Teng is sidelined by bone spurs, while head coach Aldin Ayo is serving a one-game suspension.
Despite those two big losses, La Salle figures to have a lot of cushion to fall back on. Entering this game, they’re the clear leaders in terms of offensive rating (95.7) and defensive rating (78.8), and are #2 in opponents’ TOV% (26.5%), thanks to their Mayhem style of play.
When these two teams played last season, they split their series, with each team getting a victory in hand.
In round one, the Archers claimed a come-from-behind win, 80-76. DLSU did two things well there. First, they were much better rebounding-wise, particularly on the offensive end, trumping Ateneo in ORB%, 28.85% versus 17.50%. That led to a 14-6 edge in second-chance points, 9-4 in the second-half. They also did a superb job defensively on Ateneo’s two stars, Kiefer Ravena and Von Pessumal, who combined to shoot 10-of-35 from the field. True, La Salle’s top two scorers, Jeron Teng and Thomas Torres, were not much better (10-of-28), but that slight edge was enough to open the door for their comeback.
Come round two, Ateneo was able to exact revenge, winning 73-62. With DLSU eying a Final Four berth, the reverse of game one occurred. The Archers opened up with a 23-13 lead, but were held to 21 total in the middle two periods. That allowed Ateneo to go up 53-44 through three quarters, and they held on the rest of the way.
This time, it was Ateneo that ruled the glass. The Eagles had a 39.47% ORB, compared to just 25.00 for the Archers. Furthermore, La Salle couldn’t convert at all on their second-chances, finishing with no second-chance points, compared to Ateneo’s 10.
The Blue Eagles this time also had a more varied attack. In addition to Ravena and Pessumal combining for 32 markers, they got big contributions from Aaron Black and Adrian Wong, 23 points to be exact. Prince Rivero and Teng were the only La Sallians in double-figures.
This season’s battles figure to be plenty different, with Ben Mbala patrolling the middle being the biggest change. The trio of Gboy Babilonia, Chibueze Ikeh, and Isaac Go will have their hands full against the Taft tower, who’s averaged a UAAP-best 19.5 points, 16.8 rebounds, and 2.3 blocks.
For Ateneo, it’ll be a different Ravena shouldering the leadership role. Thirdy has shined after a year away from the team due to academics, norming 11.3 points and 6.0 rebounds.
If you look at the stats, DLSU is far and away the superior team, but no doubt, the team won’t be taking this one lightly, not without Ayo and Teng. In addition, they’re coming off a close win against last-place UE, so they’re fully aware that suffering a loss could very well happen. That only means one thing: expect a tight, well-fought game when these two sides collide.