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Sports

Ateneo-UP: real battle begins

John Bryan Ulanday - The Philippine Star
Ateneo-UP: real battle begins

MANILA, Philippines — Ateneo and University of the Philippines may have taken different paths on the way to the Last Dance but still lived up to their lofty billings as perennial title favorites, setting up what is expected to be an all-out duel for all the marbles of the UAAP Season 84 men’s basketball tournament.

Yet with little to no time to prepare, the arch foes tie knots right away at 4 p.m. today at the Mall of Asia Arena in a unique chapter of their fabled “Battle of Katipunan” rivalry.

Odds are high on the Blue Eagles as the No. 1 seed and three-time reigning champions. But the second-seeded Fighting Maroons have flaunted their capabilities through adversity time and again to give their counterparts a run for their money in the short best-of-three showdown.

For one, UP was the only team to beat the mighty Ateneo this season through a pulsating 84-83 win in the last match of the elims that in the process denied the Blue Eagles’ bid for a 14-0 sweep and an automatic finals berth.

Ateneo then took the second quickest trip to the championship round by trampling No. 4 FEU in the Final Four, 85-72, while UP was pushed to the limit by No. 3 La Salle in their own pairing.

UP dropped a narrow 83-80 loss in Game 1 but reached the destination nonetheless after fashioning out an incredible 78-74 comeback win in the do-or-die Final Four behind the heroics of Carl Tamayo to set a finals rematch with Ateneo since their battle of 2018.

The Fighting Maroons, though, expect the journey to get only tougher from here on in an elusive bid to end their 36-year title drought with vengeful Blue Eagles readily waiting at the gates.

“We never gave up against La Salle and that was special. But what happened the other day, tapos na ‘yun. So right now, we just have to be ready for Ateneo,” said coach Goldwin Monteverde, in the finals only in his debut season in the collegiate level.

Ateneo, for its part, is out for a bigger goal of continuing excellence with a potential fourth straight title on the line even against an expected strong challenge from UP.

“Everybody in our program contributes to the success of all of us. That’s our culture and we’re proud of that culture. We think it contributes to our success so we will continue,” said Baldwin, counting heavily on his prized big man Ange Kouame.

The naturalized player for Gilas Pilipinas leads the UAAP MVP derby after the elims with UP’s Zavier Lucero and Tamayo on his coattails serving as the much-awaited side story in the explosive finals.

UAAP

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