Ateneo, La Salle part ways

April 1, 2022 Theodore P. Jurado 452 views

FOUR-PEAT seeking Ateneo faces its biggest test in arch nemesis La Salle in a Saturday night UAAP men’s basketball showdown at the empty Mall of Asia Arena.

Tip off is at 7 p.m.

In another chapter of their storied rivalry to be played behind closed doors, the Blue Eagles and the Green Archers, unbeaten in three contests, battle for the solo lead.

Untouchable since October 2018 where it won 29 consecutive games, Ateneo used its patented third quarter runs that served cushion for its three victories, including last Thursday’s 78-47 rout of Adamson.

La Salle is also 3-0 in the second Derrick Pumaren era, as the Taft-based side is fresh from a 75-65 conquest of Far Eastern University.

In his first rivalry game since Sept. 7, 1991 where his Archers prevailed over the Eagles, 79-75, Pumaren is simply focused on what lies on the table as they try to end a two-year Final Four drought.

“We just have to concentrate more on Ateneo, we know that there are bigger games ahead and it will start with Ateneo on Saturday,” said Pumaren, who steered La Salle to its first two UAAP crowns in 1989 and 1990.

“We just have to get back on the drawing board and know what to do against Ateneo. We know that they’re very well-coached and we know that they’re giving teams problems. Hopefully, we will be able to solve that when we meet Ateneo,” he added.

Baldwin, currently the league’s longest tenured coach having handled the Eagles since 2016, knows that the Archers will elevate their game several notches higher.

“We want to approach the La Salle game as 0-0. It’s the only game that matters now and we want to make sure that we play well in that game,” said Baldwin.

“I’ve just seen a little bit on TV and they looked fast, they’re a big team. It’s a very good La Salle team, they like the pressure game so it should be an interesting matchup,” the erstwhile national team coach added.

All eyes will be on the UAAP top two centers in Eagles’ Ange Kouame and Archers’ Justine Baltazar, who have played under Baldwin for Gilas Pilipinas last year.

“I think coming to the next game, it’s going to be the same mentality and we try to cover our mistakes, learn from it, and keep moving forward,” said Kouame, the naturalized Filipino who had a double-double of 13 points and 10 rebounds against the Falcons.

Setting aside friendships and camaraderie for this game, Baltazar, who is on his final year with La Salle, is leaving everything on the floor to continue winning.

The Archers are enjoying their finest start since opening the 2017 season with three consecutive victories.

“Ganoon pa rin. Focus pa rin kami sa mga gameplan ni coach, kung ano yung papagawa nila samin, magre-ready pa rin kami. So kung ano pa rin yung pinapakita namin, ganun pa rin. Mas dodoblehin pa namin,” said Baltazar, who had 20 points and 11 rebounds, against the Tamaraws.

Ateneo won its last five meetings with La Salle, as it last tasted defeat in Game 2 of the 2017 Finals – a 83-92 setback on Nov. 29, 2017.

In other games, University of the Philippines shoots for its third straight win as it plays winless University of the East at 1 p.m., while University of Santo Tomas, coming off a breakthough 74-62 triumph over UE Friday night, plays Adamson at 4 p.m.

FEU and National University, locked in a four-way tie tie with UST and Adamson at 1-2, clash in the 10 a.m. matinee.

Meanwhile, the UAAP is welcoming the return of spectators inside the Mall of Asia Arena on a limited capacity starting on Tuesday, the league officially announced on its social media accounts yesterday.

UAAP president Nong Calanog said the decision of having spectators back in the Pasay venue was reached after consultations with the league’s bio security officers, Commission on Higher Education and the Pasay City LGU.

“After discussions with our health officers and putting a few additional protocols in place, we are now ready to have fans back in the arena. The UAAP is a competition best experienced with students and alumni supporting their respective schools,” said Calanog in a statement.