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Eagles see big fight vs Maroons for lead

UP’s Paul Desiderio pulls off a jumper against UST’s Steve Akomo during their clash last Sunday. The Maroons won, 74-73. JOEY MENDOZA

MANILA, Philippines — Weather-permitting, Katipunan neighbors and opening weekend winners Ateneo and University of the Philippines clash to dispute the early solo lead in today’s UAAP Season 80 men’s basketball tournament at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.

The Blue Eagles flaunted their firepower early with an emphatic 85-65 rout of contender Adamson on kickoff day, prompting Fighting Maroons coach Bo Perasol to rethink his assessment of the Ateneans in this competition.

“I saw them last Saturday and they’re so formidable,” Perasol said of his former squad. “I really thought La Salle is going to be way ahead of the pack but when I saw Ateneo, I think they’re going head to head.”

Perasol’s Maroons hope to draw extra inspiration from their 74-73 squeaker over the UST Tigers on Paul Desiderio’s triple at the buzzer last Sunday as they lock horns with the powerhouse Ateneo Eagles at 4 p.m.

“Everybody knows which team enjoys the advantage in our matchup. But we’re going to make sure we give everything in our power,” said Perasol.

Although they looked great in that 20-point rout over a Papi Sarr-less Falcons, the Eagles won’t let themselves fall into a false sense of security.

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“We had a lot of turnovers, that’s something we didn’t want to do,” said Ateneo assistant coach Sandy Arespacochaga, referring to his wards’ 14 turnovers that Adamson converted into 14 points.

Nigerian big man Chibueze Ikeh showed he can be a solid presence for Ateneo, banging in 18 markers and 17 boards – more than double his 5.4-point, 5.4-rebound average last year.

“He’s working hard, he’s working extra with coach Gene Afable, Ford Arao and Alton Lister and putting in the work. That’s why we’re not surprised with the way he played,” said Arespacochaga.

In the first game, host Far Eastern U and University of the East tangle in a battle of U-Belt-based teams that both dropped their opening game assignments. The Tams lost to defending champion La Salle, 90-95, while the Warriors got blown out by National U, 69-86.

“As a coach when you lose, you look at the positives,” said FEU mentor Olsen Racela, whose charges mounted a furious rally from double-digit deficits but fell short against DLSU. “Our second half (performance) was the positive for us. But then again, if we played that well from the very start, we would’ve gotten a better result,” he added.

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