League-leading Ateneo Blue Eagles take on archrivals De La Salle Green Archers again on Saturday in UAAP second-round hostilities. Of course, this match-up has always been the most anticipated in local college basketball, watched even by non-Ateneans and non-La Sallians.
But although these two popular squads face off at least twice in the UAAP each year, tomorrow's battle will also be between two of the hottest teams in the league this year. Both schools are enjoying the longest winning streaks since the first round, with the Blue Eagles having seven straight victories, and the Green Archers four. All the other teams have had their winning runs halted recently. This adds extra gravy to a delightful Ateneo versus La Salle tussle.
But the Ateneans remain highly favored to win this match. They have not bowed down to any squad since that 70-71 loss to UST on July 19. And they certainly don't plan to take another setback, especially to their bitter foes. The Blue Eagles are also on a mission to snare a fifth straight UAAP title before Norman Black departs for the PBA. Main man Greg Slaughter is likewise in his last tour of duty with Ateneo, and will want to add another feather in his cap with another collegiate championship (which he has several of since his University of Visayas days), and possibly an MVP plum. The Blue Eagles know that next year will be more challenging without Slaughter, so they better make sure of bagging the crown now.
But La Salle is without a doubt a much better team now than in the first DLSU-ADMU meeting. The Archers avenged their first-round defeat to UST, and dislodged NU at fourth spot in the standings. Of course, they also upended the highly-touted Bulldogs. So the only remaining top teams the Archers have not conquered so far are FEU and Ateneo. This is certainly an added motivation to get one over their archrivals. A victory by the Archers will put them in a very good position to enter the Final 4.
Now let's review the numbers. Ateneo is still the best offensive team in the league, with 74.6 points per game. La Salle is fifth with 66.4. But defensively, the Taft-based dribblers are now on top, allowing just 63.4 points to their opponents per game, followed by the Eagles' 64. Obviously, the Archers cannot engage in a shootout with the Eagles. But both squads are tough defensive units and the one that can execute better in the offensive end will likely win.
Experience is on the side of Ateneo. In a high-pressure game, the Eagles are expected to have the better poise. For sure, Black will want to take advantage of the Eagles' size, especially when Slaughter is on the floor. DLSU just doesn't have any player who can shackle the 6'11" Fil-Am singlehandedly in the post. And Greg has certainly mastered his craft well since his Smart Gilas days.
The challenge for La Salle is to limit as many inside points for Ateneo as possible. The Archers must be more concerned about the Eagles' points in the paint and should try to confuse them with a variety of defenses including double-teaming options and zone defenses. After all, the Eagles have the most baskets in the shaded area, with 37.3 per game. The goal must be for La Salle to force Ateneo to take more outside shots, which is one of the Eagles' weak points. The Eagles just shoot 24.2 % this season from beyond the arc, good for only sixth spot. With the exit of Kirk Long and Emman Monfort, the Eagles are struggling from the outside, especially when Kiefer Ravena is having an off day.
But the Archers must be wary about one more thing — Ateneo's transition game. The Eagles rank first in fast break points, with 12.2 markers per game. They love to spread the floor and score in the open court. One thing going for La Salle however is it controls the boards pretty well. It tops the league in rebounding, with a remarkable 50.3 caroms per game. Ateneo only has 43.9.
Amazing as well is how the Archers were able to accept life without their leader LA Revilla. In the first round, they clearly struggled without the witty playmaker on the floor. Now that Revilla seems to be unable to see action for more games due to an ankle injury, the Archers have learned to adapt well. In their last win against the Tigers, rookie Thomas Torres made a good account of himself at the point. The key for coach Gee Abanilla is having more players to step up each game. This will make La Salle more unpredictable going into the crucial stages of the eliminations.
One more challenge for the Archers in tomorrow's mega game is to be accurate from the outside. It will be tough amassing points inside against the taller Eagles. Black has the luxury of rotating behemoths like Slaughter, Frank Golla, Justine Chua and JP Erram, all of whom are above 6'6". Ateneo is also the best shot-blocking team right now with over six swats per outing.
More Archers must have their fingers in the scoring pie. It would be nice to see some of the usual DLSU scorers to show up tomorrow, like Joshua Webb, Jarelan Tampus, Luigi Dela Paz, etc. A balanced scoring will give La Salle a fighting chance against the country's best college team today.
Then, of course, the icing on the cake of tomorrow's grand party — the Ravena versus Jeron Teng match-up. Both young cagers are exceptional scorers. The former is the smarter one who can play the point guard position just as splendidly as the two-guard. Kiefer is also the better outside gunner and a more finesse player. He holds a two-edged sword as he can pile up the points and also make his teammates look good with his assists.
Teng, on the other hand, is built like a rock. He is so strong that he can take on five defenders and still manage to get the bucket. In his very first season in the senior division, Jeron has already proven that he can be the Archers' take-charge guy. In many occasions since the Fil-Oil Cup, Teng has saved the day for La Salle with his winning shots. What's more, both Ravena (14.3 points) and Teng (15.8 points) lead their team in scoring.
What a treat it's going to be.
Editor's note: The blogger's views do not represent Yahoo! Southeast Asia's position on the topic or issue being discussed in this post.