ATENEO is bracing for a big University of the Philippines fightback as it tries to sew up its second straight UAAP men's basketball championship at 3:30 p.m. today before an expected overflow crowd at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
“We can't expect anything less on Wednesday from them (Fighting Maroons). We have to expect a lot more from our defense," said coach Tab Baldwin after the Blue Eagles carved out a tough 88-79 series-opening win last Saturday.
Facing its backs against the wall once more, UP hopes to reprise its stunning Final Four reversal against No. 2 Adamson, where it won two down-the-wire contests to make it to the Finals for the first time in 32 years.
“We all understand that we need to be better than how we played in Game 1. We are up against the defending champion and as such, we have to bring our A-1 game,"”said Maroons mentor Bo Perasol.
In the women's division, National University seeks to close out its championship showdown with Far Eastern University with a record 80th consecutive win and a five-peat at 11 a.m.
With Thirdy Ravena on the firing end, Ateneo had a strong start in the championship opener and quelled a stirring UP uprising in the second half behind Jun Manzo to claim the 1-0 series lead.
Gunning for a 10th crown overall and become the fourth winningest team in the league, the Eagles are very much aware of what the Maroons have proved in the post-elimination stage which they try to carry over come Game 2.
“UP is much more determined, much more cohesive," said Baldwin. "They understand their personnel, they understand how to create shots much better and they play for one another. It's quite obvious. So that always makes a team tougher.:
“It's something I think that probably coach Bo (Perasol) was working on throughout the season and I think he got it pretty close to right."
Not only Ravena, who flirted with a triple-double in the opener, has delivered the goods for Ateneo but also Matt Nieto.
Making up for lost time after missing the second round duel with the Maroons due to injury, Matt Nieto mocked all the defenses thrown against him with a career-high 27 points.
The good news for UP is Nigerian slotman Bright Akhuetie, who hurt his knee after a collision with Ateneo's Ivorian rookie Ange Kouame late in the opener, will suit up to savage its Cinderella season.
Akhuetie will receive the season MVP award in the ceremonies prior to Game 2.
The key for the Maroons to level the series is graduating skipper Paul Desiderio, who was limited to five points in Game 1.