Bulldogs ready for defense; Cani's Eagles stint okayed

Coaches of UAAP member schools join hands during the launch of UAAP Season 78 at the Gloria Maris Gateway in Quezon City. They are (from left) La Salle’s Juno Sauler, FEU’s Nash Racela, UP’s Rensy Bajar, NU’s Eric Altamirano, UE’s Derrick Pumaren, Adamson’s Mike Fermin, UST’s Bong dela Cruz and Ateneo’s Bo Perasol. Joey Mendoza Jr.

MANILA, Philippines - The National U Bulldogs embrace the high expectations and hope to buck the pressure as they set out for defense of its crown against seven equally determined challengers in the UAAP Season 78 men's basketball wars unfolding Saturday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.

The Bulldogs ended a 60-year title drought last season and with key members of the winning team led by Gelo Alolino and Alfred Aroga back for another go, they loom as among the favored squads.

"We just have to embrace that (favorite tag). Whether we like or not, we're the defending champions so we're going to be one of the teams to beat. What's important is how we will respond to the challenge," NU coach Eric Altamirano said during yesterday's press launch in Quezon City.

"We're very thankful for the opportunity to win the championship last year but as we told the team, it's over and done with. This is a new season, a new story to write. We have to treat it the same way as we approached last season," he added.

Their vanquished foe, the FEU Tams, also rank high on the team-to-beat list with Mac Belo and Mike Tolomia returning to the fold.

"The goal is to improve from last year," said Tams mentor Nash Racela, somehow toning down the expectations. "For sure, we will do our best this year and hopefully we will have a favorable outcome."

Rivals Ateneo and La Salle are also tipped to contend despite rookie-laden rosters.

Meanwhile, the UAAP board yesterday reconsidered its decision on the eligibility status of Ateneo rookie Hubert Cani and finally gave the former National U Bullpups standout the clearance to suit up for the Blue Eagles in the Season 78 men's basketball tourney.

Citing the newly signed Student-Athlete Protection law that junked any form of residency requirement, Ateneo appealed Cani's case and got a favorable verdict four days before action is set to kick off in the country's premier collegiate league.

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